Cable reference id: #09RIYADH1434

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Reference id aka Wikileaks id #231809  ? 

SubjectSaudi Succession: Can The Allegiance Commission Work?
OriginEmbassy Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)
Cable timeWed, 28 Oct 2009 14:37 UTC
ClassificationSECRET//NOFORN
Sourcehttp://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/10/09RIYADH1434.html
References08RIYADH1757, 09RIYADH1402
Referenced by09RIYADH1471, 09RIYADH1617, 10RIYADH31
History
  • Time unknown: Original unredacted version, leaked to Wikileaks
  • Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24: Original unredacted version published, with HTML goodies
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 RIYADH 001434

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/25/2019
TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], PINR [Intelligence], SA [Saudi Arabia]
SUBJECT: SAUDI SUCCESSION: CAN THE ALLEGIANCE COMMISSION
WORK?

REF: A. RIYADH 1402
B. 08 RIYADH 1757

Classified By: AMBASSADOR JAMES B. SMITH,
for reasons 1.4 (B) & (D)

SUMMARY
——–

¶1. (S) Though often cast as one of King Abdullah’s reforms,
the Allegiance Commission established in 2006 actually
codifies the family’s traditional practices for choosing
successors, with several refinements to address problems such
as incapacitation of either King or Crown Prince. With
members drawn from the sons and grandsons of founding King
Abdulaziz, but with protocol strictly based on birth order,
the Commission reflects the Al Saud consensus for managing
the transition to the next generation. It is unlikely that
the mechanism would be ignored, since its members constitute
the core of the Kingdom’s collective leadership, and it has
the status of the Kingdom’s other constitutional laws.
Second Deputy Prime Minister Nayif is currently best-placed
as a Crown Prince-in-waiting. Remaining likely candidates
among his brothers include Riyadh Governor Salman, Royal
Adviser Abdulilah, Riyadh Vice Governor Sattam, Vice Interior
Minister Ahmed, and the youngest, GIP Head Muqrin. Though it
is unclear who will emerge from among the next generation of
princes to govern, the Commission’s makeup suggests that the
candidate will be drawn from among the princes already in
senior government positions. There are few truly national
leaders; the Al Saud system of balancing power among various
princes makes it difficult for anyone to emerge from his
father’s shadow. The selection process is not susceptible to
external influence, but whoever emerges will likely have been
educated in, and seek to advance Saudi interests by
continuing the Kingdom’s critical partnership with the U.S.
End summary.

A COUNTRY IN TRANSITION
———————–

¶2. (C) Al-Watan Editor-in-chief Jamal Khashoggi (protect)
recently characterized Saudi Arabia as “a country in
transition,” facing many questions regarding its future. It
was clear, he posited, that in ten years, there would be a
new leader from the “new generation” of princes. What was so
unsettling, he explained, was that “no one knows who this
will be.” Certainly the issue of succession in Saudi Arabia
has given rise to an industry of royal-watchers and
prognosticators. And certainly too, the appointment of
Interior Minister Prince Nayif as Second Deputy Prime
Minister in March 2009 and which positions him as a possible
Crown Prince-in-waiting has not settled questions about the
future. The King is 86, 84-year-old Crown Prince Sultan has
been incapacitated by colon cancer, Nayif is 75 and has had
his own health problems, and the youngest of the sons of
Abdulaziz, Prince Muqrin, is 64. It is not clear, even to
Saudis themselves, how the jump to the next generation will
be managed, except that the King decreed procedures to decide
succession with the 2006 promulgation of the Allegiance
Commission Law. This message explains Embassy Riyadh,s
understanding of the mechanism intended to ensure a smooth
transfer of power from one generation of the ruling family to
the next.

ALLEGIANCE COMMISSION: AL SAUD ARE US
————————————-

¶3. (U) BASED ON TRADITION: The Allegiance Commission Law was
touted by some foreign observers as a “reform” or innovation
that reflected a desire on the part of King Abdullah to make
the succession process more transparent. Some even went so
far as to characterize the law as decreeing that the next
king would be “elected” since members of the commission could
vote to choose a candidate. However, the Al Saud themselves
describe the Allegiance Commission as a codification of the
unwritten rules that have governed the selection of Saudi
rulers since the passing of King Abdulaziz in 1953. Though
the country defines itself as a monarchy, in practice the
sons of Abdulaziz have governed through a unique system of
collective rule. This leadership, probably the world’s only
system of government by half-brothers, is consensus-based and
by nature cautious, conservative, and reactive. Though the
1992 Basic Law gave the King the sole power to appoint and
relieve a Crown Prince, the process of selecting an heir
always required extensive consultation with, and acceptance

RIYADH 00001434 002 OF 005

by, the family’s senior members, usually brokered by one of
the eldest. The Allegiance Commission Law formalized these
traditional practices: the Commission is made up of the
princes entitled to a claim to the throne, chaired by the
eldest, with protocol determined strictly by birth order,
empowered to select the next rulers from among the sons and
grandsons of the founding King. While attributed to King
Abdullah, the Commission actually represents the family’s
consensus plan for gradually transferring power from the sons
of Abdulaziz to his grandsons.

¶4. (C) SONS AND GRANDSONS ONLY: The law specifies that the
King must formally seek the consent of the Commission to
choose his successor. The Commission’s 33 male members
include 15 of the 16 living sons of the kingdom’s founder;
and one son of each of the 16 deceased sons with male heirs
(the King selects the son or grandson who will represent each
of his deceased brothers); and sons of both the current king
and crown prince. (Members of the Commission are listed in
paragraph 9.) Nineteen (19) members hold senior government
positions, and they comprise, in effect, the Al Saud’s
managing board of directors. (NOTE: the Commission originally
comprised 35 members; Fawaz bin Abdulaziz died without male
heirs, and a replacement for the late Turki bin Faisal bin
Turki bin Abdulaziz (I), the only great-grandson on the
Commission, has yet to be appointed. End note.)

¶5. (U) SELECTING A NEW HEIR: The law was envisaged to enter
into force upon King Abdallah,s death, and does not
explicitly address the situation of the death of the heir to
the throne. However, based on Article 7, subparagraph B,
which states that the King may ask the Allegiance Commission
to nominate a suitable Crown Prince at any time, it is
understood that if Prince Sultan were to die, King Abdallah
would submit the name of a nominee for a replacement Crown
Prince to the Commission for its approval.

¶6. (U) THE KING PROPOSES: According to the law, the
initiative for nominating a successor lies with the King, who
can propose one, two or three candidates for Crown Prince to
the Commission. Meeting behind closed doors and in
deliberations kept secret, Commission members will attempt to
reach consensus on the King’s nominee. If this is not
possible, the Commission may reject the King’s nominees and
propose its own candidate, whose qualifications must satisfy
conditions stipulated in the Basic Law, i.e., be the “most
upright” among the descendants of the founder king, rather
than the most senior. If the King rejects this nominee, the
Commission would vote by secret ballot to decide between its
candidate and the King’s candidates.

¶7. (C) NO TRANSPARENCY: The eldest prince present
–currently, Prince Mishal bin Abdulaziz– presides as
chairman of the Commission, with the next eldest serving as
his deputy. A secretary general, currently Royal Diwan Chief
Khalid al-Tuwajeri, is responsible for managing the
procedures and ensuring that a written record will be kept of
the Commission’s discussions. The law stipulates that this
record should remain secret and that a single copy be kept on
the premises of Commission offices, the only place members
could read it. Any changes to the succession law proposed by
the King must be agreed to by the Commission.

¶8. (U) TRANSITION RULE: Article 10 of the law directs that
the commission establish a 5-member Transitory Ruling Council
to temporarily run the country in the event that the King and
Crown Prince were to die simultaneously or both become
incapacitated. As far as Embassy is aware, the members of
this council have not been publicly announced, and may not
have been selected. The Law does not specify procedures for
selecting the 5 members. The Allegiance Commission can
summon a medical committee to determine if a king or crown
prince is able to rule. The membership of the medical
committee includes, among others, the court physician and the
deans of three Saudi medical schools. A king and or crown
prince can be declared medically unfit either temporarily or
permanently. If both a king and his crown prince are
determined to be unfit to rule, or they somehow die at the
same time, the five-member Transitory Ruling Council will
manage the government for a maximum of one week until the
full commission selects a new monarch. This Transitory Ruling
Council will not have powers to amend the basic law, dissolve
the government, or change the ruling infrastructures in any
way.

WHO ARE THE KINGMAKERS?
———————–

RIYADH 00001434 003 OF 005

¶9. (U) THE KINGMAKERS, AKA COMMISSION MEMBERS: The members
of the Allegiance Commission, in protocol (i.e., birth)
order, are:

(# 1) Mishal bin Abdulaziz, Chairman
(# 2) Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz (Vice Minister, Defense)
(# 3) Miteb bin Abdulaziz (Minister, Public Works)
(# 4) Talal bin Abdulaziz
(# 5) Badr bin Abdulaziz (Adviser to the King)
(# 6) Turki bin Abdulaziz
(# 7) Nayif bin Abdulaziz (Minister of Interior)
(# 8) Salman bin Abdulaziz (Governor of Riyadh)
(# 9) Mamdouh bin Abdulaziz
(#10) Abdulilah bin Abdulaziz (Adviser to the King)
(#11) Sattam bin Abdulaziz (Vice Governor of Riyadh)
(#12) Ahmed bin Abdulaziz (Vice Minister of Interior)
(#13) Mashhoor bin Abdulaziz
(#14) Hazloul bin Abdulaziz
(#15) Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (Director, Intelligence)
(#16) Muhammad bin Saud bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Al Baha)
(#17) Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Mecca)
(#18) Muhammad bin Saad bin Abdulaziz (Interior Ministry
Adviser)
(#19) Muhammad bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Jizan)
(#20) Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Qassim)
(#21) Saud bin Abdulmuhsin bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Hail)
(#22) Muhammad bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Eastern
Province)
(#23) Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz (Assistant Defense
Minister)
(#24) Talal bin Mansur bin Abdulaziz
(#25) Khalid bin Abdallah bin Abdulaziz
(#26) Muhammad bin Mishari bin Abdulaziz
(#27) Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Asir)
(#28) Badr bin Muhammad bin Abdulaziz
(#29) Faisal bin Thamer bin Abdulaziz
(#30) Mishaal bin Majid bin Abdulaziz (Governor, Jeddah)
(#31) Abdallah bin Musaid bin Abdulaziz
(#32) Faisal bin Abdulmajid bin Abdulaziz
(#33) Abdulaziz bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz

NOTE: Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdulaziz (I)
died; appointment of a replacement would increase the members
to 34.

WILL IT WORK?
————-

¶10. (U) While untested in its current form, the Allegiance
Commission represents a refinement of the practices through
which the Al Saud have historically ensured smooth
transitions of power. Some of its provisions provide
solutions to past challenges. Rules for dealing with
incapacitation are stipulated, and a procedure to handle the
deaths of both King and Crown Prince has also been clarified.
Some observers question whether this mechanism would be
invoked, but its status as a basic law of the Kingdom makes
it difficult to challenge or ignore. Even more importantly,
its members include the royal family’s key decision makers.
It is therefore highly unlikely that they would ignore its
provisions, especially in a crisis. The Allegiance
Commission provides assurances — as well as a warning — on
the continuity of Al Saud rule as it moves beyond its current
iteration of rule by half-brothers.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE?
———————

¶11. (C) SENIORITY COUNTS: The Allegiance Commission’s
official protocol order confirms order of birth, a key,
though not the only, qualification for eligibility. The rank
ordering extends to grandsons of Abdulaziz, suggesting that
birth-order, and not father, establishes the pecking order in
the next generation. And although the basic law stipulates
that the King and Crown Prince should be “the most upright”
among the princes, and not simply the eldest, senior-ranking
princes must give their assent to the appointment of a junior
sibling. They also give up any claim to the throne, and
eligibility progresses to younger princes, as in the case of
Mishal (the current Chairman of the Allegiance Commission),
who was passed over in favor of Sultan. If Second Deputy
Prime Minister Nayif were to be appointed Crown Prince (ref
b), then Abdulrahman (his elder full brother), Miteb (who is
a full brother of passed-over Mishal), Talal, and Badr would

RIYADH 00001434 004 OF 005

similarly have to relinquish their claims to succession.

¶12. (C) REMAINING SONS: In addition to Nayif, there would be
only five likely “eligible” candidates among the remaining
sons of Abdulaziz: Riyadh Governor Prince Salman (b. 1935);
Royal Adviser Prince Abdulilah (b. 1938); Riyadh Vice
Governor Prince Sattam (b. 1942); Vice Minister of Interior
Prince Ahmed (b. 1942); and GIP Director Prince Muqrin (b.
1945). Salman would be the most logical next candidate, were
it not for the fact that he is Nayif’s full brother. If past
history is any guide, the rest of the family could balk at
the prospect of two successive Sudayri kings if Nayif wound
up as king. While Abdulilah is next by virtue of seniority,
his ill-starred government career (he was twice removed from
governorships) leaves questions about his competency. Sattam
is a dark-horse candidate who has only just begun to raise
his profile during the year-long absence of Prince Salman.
Ahmed has operated in Nayif’s shadow as Vice Minister of
Interior – the youngest of the so-called “Sudayri Seven,” his
candidacy might provoke objections from those opposed to
further concentrating that faction’s power. Last, but not
looming least, stands Prince Muqrin: head of Saudi
intelligence, enigmatic, constant companion of the King, and
hitherto deemed unsuitable because of his “Yemeni” mother.
(Comment: We suspect that when the time comes, his mother’s
origins will no longer be an impediment. End comment.)

¶13. (C) AND THE GRANDSONS? But who among the next generation
of Al Saud — who in reality are mostly well into middle age
themselves — will emerge as King? Most senior among the
grandsons on the Allegiance Commission is Al Baha Governor
Mohammed bin Saud (born in 1934), followed by Mecca Region
Governor Khalid Al-Faisal (born in 1940). If they are too old
to be viable candidates when the time comes, presumably other
members of the Commission who also hold government positions
would also be considered, such as Khalid bin Sultan, born in
1947. Beyond these, however, the field of qualified
grandson-candidates would appear limited. None of the other
members of the Allegiance Commission have national leadership
credentials, though six are provincial governors. Outside
the Commission, grandsons who have ascended to national
leadership positions are few. Only two are ministers: Saud
Al-Faisal (1940), and Abdulaziz bin Fahd, a minister without
portfolio, among the youngest, born in 1973. The circle of
those holding ministerial rank is somewhat larger, and
include governors and advisers such as Sultan bin Fahd
(1952), President of Youth Welfare; Deputy SANG Commander
Miteb bin Abdullah (1953); Abdulaziz bin Abdullah (1962), an
adviser to the King; and Tourism Head Sultan bin Salman
(1956). Other influential contenders include Assistant
Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayif (1958), Assistant
Petroleum Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman (1960), Deputy GIP
Chief Abdulaziz bin Bandar (1951); and Mansur bin Miteb
(c1950), Assistant Minister of Public Works.

¶14. (C) MAINTAINING THE BALANCE OF POWER: The dearth of
national figures among the next generation of Al Saud is
striking and reflects the centralization of power and
reluctance among senior princes to delegate or groom
successors other than their own sons; each branch of the
family has developed or been consigned to a particular
fiefdom that is difficult to grow beyond. This maintains a
balance of power among the princes but hampers the
development of national leaders. It also makes it very
difficult for any king to redistribute portfolios. One
question that looms large is who will replace Crown Prince
Sultan as Minister of Defense when he finally passes from the
scene. His full brother Abdulrahman is the Vice Minister,
and his son, Khalid bin Sultan, is Assistant Minister. It
would be difficult to promote a grandson to so powerful a
position without similarly elevating others, but it might
prove even more difficult to give the portfolio to another
prince. The position of foreign minister is equally
problematic: the incumbent should almost certainly be a
royal, but few have the qualifications, and foreign policy
has always been considered the purview of the Al Faisals.

SHOULD THE U.S. CARE?
——————–

¶15. (S/NF) Between King Abdulaziz’s less-than-well-born
youngest son and the next generation lies a chasm of
uncertainty that the Allegiance Commission is designed to
bridge. This mechanism will likely produce successors to
Sultan, Nayif and beyond. No doubt the jockeying has been
under way for some time, though it is a campaign that will
take place entirely behind closed doors, subject only to the

RIYADH 00001434 005 OF 005

Al Saud,s unique, opaque, and tribal rules for consensus
building. The process has been historically impervious to
outside interference. If history is any guide, the candidate
who emerges will be able to count on the support of his
brethren, and his first priority will be consolidating his
position to ensure continuation of Al Saud rule. Beyond
that, like all of his predecessors, he will seek to protect
Saudi interests through his Kingdom’s critical partnership
with the United States. In fact, the “new” generation of
princes may be more inclined to do so than the current one.
Speculating on candidates for future King among the grandsons
of Abdulaziz, Jamal Khashoggi remarked that whatever the
differences among them, nearly all shared a common experience
of having studied in, and therefore being favorably disposed
towards, the United States. Given U.S. equities in Saudi
Arabia, our primary concern in the short term will be
supporting a process that ensures stability and broad
engagement rather than focusing on individual leaders. Over
the longer term, stability in Saudi Arabia will depend on the
Al Saud’s ability to meet and surmount social and economic
challenges presented by a growing population and a dangerous
neighborhood.
SMITH