Saudi Arabia named Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to the throne, the latest royal promotion as King Abdullah confronts unprecedented political instability in the Middle East and economic changes at home.
Muqrin, the king’s half-brother who was born in 1945, was made second crown prince alongside his duties as second deputy prime minister, the official Saudi Press Agency said yesterday, citing a royal decree. King Abdullah named his defense minister and half-brother Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, born in 1935, crown prince in June 2012, making the traditionalist former governor of Riyadh next in line to become king.
“By many accounts, Prince Muqrin is a close and trusted adviser to King Abdullah,” said Fahad Nazer, a political analyst at Vienna, Virginia-based JTG, and a former official at the Saudi embassy in Washington. “His relative youth, extensive experience in government and knowledge of the West make him an attractive candidate. He appears to be a generally popular figure among many Saudis, whereas other royals may be more polarizing.”
The appointment came hours before U.S. President Barack Obama was due to arrive in the kingdom for talks with King Abdullah. The two are expected to discuss U.S. support for Gulf security, Iran, Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said at a March 21 briefing.
Saudi rulers have criticized the U.S. decision to abandon plans for military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
King Abdullah, who was born in 1924, has promoted a younger generation of royals to govern the world’s largest oil exporter. In May last year he named his son Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as minister of the National Guard. In December he appointed another son, Prince Meshaal bin Abdullah, to run Mecca province.
Yesterday’s move aims “to provide a bridge between generations, so that Miteb can become crown prince at a future date,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
The decree set out details of the possible succession. Muqrin will be appointed as first crown prince if that position becomes vacant, it stated. He will become king if both that post and the position of first crown prince are unfilled at the same time. The decree “may not be modified or changed in any way or form by any person whoever it may be,” it said.
The appointment heightened “unity and national cohesion” and reflected the extent of understanding among members of the royal family, Justice Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulkareem Al-Issa said, the Saudi Press Agency reported late yesterday.
Muqrin’s appointment shows “a tendency toward just keeping things as they are without any real fundamental change for as long as possible,” David Butter, Middle East analyst and associate fellow at foreign policy research group Chatham House in London, said by phone.
In February last year, Muqrin was appointed second deputy prime minister, and was the second member of the royal family to be named to that position by King Abdullah since the monarch came to power in 2005. The second deputy prime minister is usually next in line to become crown prince, pending approval by the Allegiance Council.
Six kings have ruled since the kingdom’s formation in 1932.
Muqrin was educated in Britain and the U.S. He is a former air force officer who has served as governor of the regions of Hail and Medina, and has managed the kingdom relation’s with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Muqrin, the youngest living son of the founder of Saudi Arabia, looks like the quintessential Saudi political operator,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “He did his bit in the military and has some credentials from the U.S. and the U.K. for some external flair.”
The 1992 basic law stipulates the king must be a male descendant of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud. King Abdullah, who came to the throne in 2005, is his 13th son.