Saudi Arabia’s 91-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has died, according to multiple reports. Last week he was admitted to the hospital in Riyadh for “medical checks” at the end of December.
The king assumed the throne in 2005 as the country’s sixth king. Next in the line of succession is Abdullah’s half-brother, Salman, who is 79 and has been making appearances and speeches on behalf of King Abdullah for the last couple of months.
Salman is also reportedly in poor health, so from here the family’s succession could get interesting. According to Reuters, “King Salman has called on the family’s Allegiance Council to pay allegiance to Muqrin as his crown prince and heir.” Muqrin bin Abdulaziz is Abdullah’s half-brother and is 69 years old. He was controversially named deputy heir to Abdullah last March, effectively bypassing two of the late king’s other half brothers. The move went against the unspoken rule that succession passes down according to age.
The choice of Muqrin, a British-educated fighter pilot who has close ties to the U.S., is controversial partly because he is the son of a Yemeni concubine who was never formally married to his father, King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who founded the Saudi state in 1932.
“He is not a real prince; his mother was a slave and there are other brothers who are more competent,” a former Saudi official told Liz Sly of the Washington Post last year. “Nobody believes Muqrin can become king.”
Sly explained the problem that consequently arises when the next generation takes over:
Given that there are scores of princes in [the third generation], the potential for discord is high. Whoever inherits the throne is likely to anoint his own brothers as future heirs, thereby cutting out multiple cousins from access to the throne and the patronage it provides.