Sunday, August 04, 2002

The "Sudairi 7" Princes and the Saudi Succession

There have been many references lately to the "Sudairi Princes" in the media lately, when discussing the succession to the throne of Saudi Arabia. I suppose that these references are used to accent the fact that Abdullah, the current de facto ruler of the country is not one of them. I went back to my old copy of The Kingdom, by Robert Lacey, a fair if not overtly favorable history of the house of Sa'ud published 21 years ago, to see what was written about the Sudairi princes before the succession became a cause celebre. Since I had read this book and did not recall any great distinction between the "Sudairi 7" brothers and the other 50 sons of "Big Daddy" Abdul Aziz, I decided to refresh my memory. This may get a little dry, so before we begin I will wait while you get a cup of coffee, or something else to slake your thirst. Or let me do the zero based thinking for you, and just skip down to the last paragraph for my findings.

Note: As a history enthusiast, I enjoy getting into the texture of historical events. My interest in items like the fact that Abdul Aziz married his first cousin is not gratuitous. The Old Testament specifically allows marriage to one's cousin, and it is a holy book of the Jews and the Christians, as well as the Muslims. I do find it interesting, however, even though it probably has no further meaning. Her age is also interesting. In the same vein, you might like to know that Abdul Aziz rather enjoyed sex, and the fact that he bragged that he enjoyed having relations face-to-face, even though it was considered provocative, if not outright kinky, gives some additional texture to one's understanding of the founder of the modern Saudi Arabian dynasty. Also consider the fact that he named his kingdom after himself, similar to the situation that would obtain if we renamed our country The United States of Bush, or The United States of Washington.

The Sudairis are a clan of warriors from the area to the north of Riyadh. Hassa bint Ahmad Sudairi was a daughter of the clan, and King Abdul Aziz al Saud, the founder of the current Saudi regime, fell in love(?) with her when she was 9 years old. His mother and her mother were sisters. Wahabbis are very proper people, so he waited until she was 13 to marry her, and she immediately bore him a son. He subsequently divorced her, and she then married his brother. He couldn't get her out of his mind, so he asked his brother to divorce her, and they remarried. They had seven more sons (one died) and five daughters, and she remained in his harem until his death. The other fifty sons had different mothers. The most interesting thing I uncovered is that many of the other mothers of the Abdul Aziz sons are also girls from the Sudairi clan. In addition to Hassa, there were Al Fadha, Haiya, and the old man's favorite, Jauhara. The total number of daughters Abdul Aziz had is unknown.

The Saudi succession is decided between the surviving brothers, which was the wish of the father. He commanded them to not favor one line over another, from father to son, but rather preferred that the kingdom pass from brother to brother. The youngest son of Abdul Aziz was born in 1947. Since the death of Abdul Aziz the decision of successors has been made by a democratic(?) process between his heirs. As a guideline, they have been following a chronoligical order, respecting seniority, but they are not bound by any seniority rule. They have skipped a few brothers, though. By strict seniority, Abdullah is the next in line. The current king, Fahd, was crippled by a stroke in 1995, and Abdullah has been ruling as crown prince since then. Abdullah is not one of the sons of Hassa, but his claim to the throne appears to be the strongest.

It seems to me that this whole Sudairi succession controversy stems from the fact that King Fahad and the other surviving Sudairi brithers are seen by some as "pro-American." Fahad was "helpful" in allowing the U.S. to save his dynasty in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. there are also signe that the Sudairis have favored oil policy that has helped to keep production up, and therefore oil prices have been lower than they might otherwise have been. Historically, the al Sauds have done this for selfish, not geopolitical reasons, as daddy taught his sons that they must feed the horse that they ride, i.e. the Western economies must be strong enough that the currency we give them will continue to hold its value.

At the same time, these "pro-American" rulers have financed and protected international terrorists and allowed the Wahabbi religious establishment free reign to promote a fundamentalist resurgence throughout the world. The Wahabbi sect is not a tool af the regime, but an uneasy partner to it. The house of Saud has no control over the Ministry of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, so it could be said that they have no choice but to allow these guardians of orthodoxy to do what they will, since the regime would crumble without the religious credibility they impart. The army that Abdul Aziz used to take power in the first place was composed of Ikhwan warriors of the Wahabbi sect. At the moment of triumph, Abdul Aziz had their leaders slain and their power marginalized, rather like what Hitler did to the Brown Shirts, and similar to the destruction of the Viet Cong during and after Tet in 1968. Wahabbis will never forgive the al Sauds for the betrayal of the Ikhwan warriors that gave him the keys to the kingdom.

Support within Saudi Arabia of Wahabbi Imams and al Qaeda could be characterized as blackmail payments. The Sauds may not like us, but they are not suicidal. To an extent their patronage of al Qaeda has served to temporarily turn bin Laden's murderous attention to the U.S.A., but not completely. Abdullah is no friend of the West, but he also knows that al Qaeda will destroy him if given the chance, for the crime of being in our camp, and allowing American troops to be billeted in Saudi Arabia. The Sudairis are seen as pro-American because their oil policies have been the major force in OPEC that keeps oil prices down.

You can be a conspiracy theorist if you want, but there is no evidence that the succession, whether to Abdullah, Sultan, or one of the other brothers, will not be handled as it always has been; the sons of Abdul Aziz will decide the succession whether the USA likes it or not. But as far as I can see, there is no practical difference for us which prince rules, as the enlightened self-interest of every one of them is the same: hold on to power, and keep the oil flowing. None of them would keep his head if he granted additional power to the fundamentalist religious establishment. The leader of a corrupt tyranny either rules or he dies, whether he is a Sudairi or not. Nothing in the history shows that any member of the al Saud family is "pro-American," but they are all pro Saudi. And whoever takes over, he will have the consent of his brothers. ...http...