Saudi Arabia’s Gerontocracy

SAUDI ARABIA’S GERONTOCRACY….With the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd and the accession of his half-brother Abdullah to the throne, another half-brother, Sultan, has been designated the new crown prince. According to Simon Henderson, Sultan was born in 1924, but for political reasons the Saudis are lying about his age. On Monday, the Saudi Press Agency said Sultan was born in 1930:

1930!? Sultan is just 75 this year! I must admit I laughed on reading this. For years I have noticed that Sultan has understated his age, but 1930 set a new record….It is the Saudi metaphorical equivalent of hair dye, although Sultan’s black hair is not genuine either (and a senior British official who met him recently said he was wearing makeup, too).

….So Saudi Arabia is facing a future of kings with short reigns. They will probably be dubbed “Saudi Brezhnevs,” after the increasingly decrepit leadership in the final years of the Soviet Union. It was entirely predictable: 12 years ago, a former British adviser to the Saudi royals preferred a Monty Python metaphor, “The parrots will fall off their perch in rapid succession.”

The logical way around this problem is for the House of Saud to choose a significantly younger king ? although for him to be called a “Saudi Gorbachev” would give Riyadh heartburn. Within the line of sons of Ibn Saud, Interior Minister Prince Nayef (born 1933) and the governor of Riyadh Province, Prince Salman (born 1936), would be contenders. Dropping a generation is often mentioned, but would probably be too contentious ? which group of grandsons would benefit, to the consternation of their cousins?

I guess this is the peril of picking a long line of brothers instead of passing the succession on via eldest sons. Bottom line: don’t expect any big changes from these guys.