LONDON – Ever since the Al Saud clan established in 1932 the kingdom to which they gave their name, the exercise of power in Saudi Arabia has been shaped by the intrigues and intricacies of royal politics. But never before has this internal struggle had such profound ramifications for the region and beyond.
With some 22,000 members, competition is a way of life in the world’s largest ruling family – a dynamic set in motion by the Kingdom’s founder, Abdul Aziz Al Saud, as he sought to secure the role of his 43 sons as future rulers, and sustained today by King Abdullah’s succession strategy.
A Saudi prince’s status is based on his mother’s tribe and his alliances with other male royals. From the outset, power was grouped on the basis of coalitions of full brothers, the most significant of whom were the “Sudeiri Seven,” Abdul Aziz’s sons with his wife Hissah Al Sudeiri. With the assassination of King Faisal in 1975 by his nephew, the Sudeiri branch of the family became its dominant faction. Fahd, the eldest Sudeiri son, ruled for 23 years, the longest reign for a Saudi king.
Abdullah’s succession in 2005 posed a direct challenge to the Sudeiri brothers’ authority. Indeed, following Fahd’s death, Sudeiri power was reduced significantly, with only Crown Princes Sultan and Naif holding key roles.