To understand the Saudi Royal family, who has ruled the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since its inception, is to attempt to understand a family torn by internal power struggles, beset on all sides by enemies and rivals, and who have also been cursed with all the disadvantages of extreme wealth. The House of Saud can be traced back to Muhammad ibn Saud, with the ruling party fathered by King Abdul Aziz.
Unlike most Western style monarchies, the line of succession is not passed down from Father to Son, but rather to brothers of the sons of King Abdul Aziz. While all close members of the family, including grandchildren, have received important government posts, the surviving sons of King Abdul Aziz are seen as being in the line of succession. With the incapatation of King Fahd due to a stroke in 1995, Crown Prince Abdullah took over the governing of the affairs of the kingdom until the death in 2005 of King Fahd, when Abdullah was crowned king.
Next in line to the throne was Crown Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz. However, on June 16, 2012, the Crown Prince passed away at the age of 80, leaving the title to Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. Salman is now the last significant member of Abdul Aziz’s direct sons, and the last major member of the so called “Sudeiri Seven”.
Prince Naif had been no friend of the West, and especially not of America. After the September 11 attacks, Naif did everything possible to prevent American investigations into Saudi Arabian suspects, and openly attacked the American government as being an enemy of Muslims everywhere.
However, while Na’if may have paid lip service to the radicals, and personally hated America, even he was concerned about the activities of radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2003 Na’if stated that he believed that Saudi Arabia had given too much support to radical elements, and that these elements themselves could become an enemy to Saudi Arabia.
With the election of Salman to the position of Crown Prince now, the Saudis face a dilemma. All the full blooded sons of Abdul Aziz are now over 60 years old, with King Abdullah 90 years old and in poor health. Salman was born in 1936, and is also in poor health. Indeed, the youngest son, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, was born in 1945.
Even the grandsons of Abdulaziz, who would be potentially eligible for consideration with appropriate support, are all over 50 years old.
Thus, a third generation of princes will begin to slowly fill important civil ranks in the government, and will move upwards to replace the First and Second generations as they pass away. The Third generation, however, are far less experienced than their grandfathers and even their fathers.
Saudi Arabia is entering one of the most important milestones in its history at the moment, with the rise of Iran to the east, the Arab Spring surrounding the country, insurgencies in Yemen, a hostile Israel to the north, and internal discord and division both against the Saudi Royal family and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
However, the younger generations especially have shown themselves poor leadership material. It can be said that the House of Saud was blessed with power, but cursed with wealth. The extreme wealth into which the second and third generation princes were born into has corrupted the family to the point at which the old Roman aristocracy comes to mind.
The family of al Saud now numbers almost 15,000 members. While only a few possess political power, a majority of the family members receive allowances, which become more and more substantial the closer to the direct bloodline one gets. In a cable to Washington in 1996, the US Ambassador stated that monthly stipends ranged from $800 a month for the most distant princes up to a sum of $270,000 a month USD for the sons of Abdul Aziz.
In addition, payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars are handed out upon completion of tasks such as getting married or building a new palace.
The princes, particularly those with power, have found new and innovative ways to raise money above that which they received from a stipend. These include defrauding businesses, theft of state property, arms sales, oil deals, bribes, and outright theft. Saudi Royals will borrow money from banks without paying it back, seize land and businesses from their owners, and demand substantial bribes from foreign companies doing business in Saudi Arabia.
The billions of dollars controlled by these princes helps to fund an extremely lavish lifestyle, the decadence and debauchery of which is legendary. King Fahd’s youngest son, Abd al Aziz, built himself a massive theme park in Mecca, costing $4.6 billion, after seizing the land to build the park on. Abd al has also built lavish personal estates for himself and his mother.
The entire house of Saud spends along these lines however. When the family goes shopping in Marbella, they spend on average $5 million a day. In the 1970s, Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East, and almost exclusively catered to Rich Saudi royals, with brothels, nightclubs, and high class restaurants. The Lebanese underworld also saw an opportunity inside Saudi Arabia and began a brisk slave trade into the Kingdom, bringing in women to work as prostitutes for the Royal family. When Saudis wish to leave the Kingdom, the more lowly princes head for London, France, or Monte Carlo, and enjoy the pleasures and sins of the West including women, gambling, alcohol, and lots and lots of money. For the higher born Saudis, each prince has a private estate along the Mediterranean coast, which are exclusively for entertaining women and for holding lavish events. The new playground for the Saudis is Morocco, where the Saudi princes can retreat to secluded palaces in the Tangier mountains and hold even more wild and debauched parties than in Europe or Saudi Arabia. In return, Saudi Arabia has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into Morocco in exchange for their silence on their activities.
The Saudi Royal attitude towards these decadent pursuits is strictly hypocritical. While the royal family may engage in any activity they see fit to, the common people live in one of the most repressive countries in the world. Especially to women, Saudi Arabia is a closed society, with women only recently receiving the right to drive, vote, and even shop by themselves (only in exclusively women staffed shops).
The Saudi society is a three tiered layer, with the Royals on top, a business class underneath who owe their patronage to the Royals, and the common class on the bottom.
However, while the Saudi Royal family has spent billions whoring, drinking, spending, and stealing for decades, they have become extremely out of touch with their own people. Radical elements in Saudi Arabia have found eager recruits from the oppressed population, who hate their ruling family and their ways. Iran is seeking to create Sectarian strife in the country, and the winds of the Arab Spring have even ruffled the feathers of the Royals.
Now, more than ever, Saudi Arabia must make a decision to either acknowledge the challenges it faces, or to accept the fact that it will fall. It is unknown yet what Crown Prince Salman will do, or even how long he will hold this position.
In our next instalment, we will analyse the future direction of the monarchy and detail the coming fall of the Royal family, if they refuse to act now.