Position: King of Saudi Arabia

Age: 75 (born 1934)

Parents: King Abdul Aziz Bin Saud and Princess Hassa bint Ahmad Al Sudairi, member of the "Sudairi Seven."

Wives: Al-Johara Bint Abdul Aziz Bin Musa'ad Al-Saud, mother of his eldest son Prince Saud Bin Nayef; Maha Bint Mohammed Bin Ahmed Al-Sudairy, mother of Prince Nawaf Bin Nayef.

Education: Attended Al-Omara'a Private School, which King Abdul Aziz had established in his Riyadh Palace (Deera District). Subjects were focused on Arabic Language, Religion and Social Studies. He continued to pursue religious education with prominent clerics.

Net worth: Unknown

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As Middle East patriarchs groom their sons to take over the reins of power, they often give lip service to something they say their citizenry will enjoy one day in the future: democratic, free elections.

However, that is not the case in Saudi Arabia, where the leadership makes no pretense about who will hold the reins of power. There may be nods of the head to paraliamentary representation, but here the law clearly states what everyone knows: Kings must be direct descendants of the country’s modern founder, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud.

The Basic Law, created by royal decree in 1992, stipulates that “the throne is reserved to the sons and grandsons of the founder” of Saudi Arabia and that the “best among the latter would be named King by acclamation.”

By mentioning the “best among” the founder’s heirs, the 1992 decree appeared to suggest that age should no longer be the overriding criteria for selecting a new monarch, as it always had been.

In 2006, the frail and elderly King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz went further and amended a key section of the 1992 Basic Law that said “the King appoints and relieves the Crown Prince."

The amendment set up the Allegiance Commission and gave it the mandate of helping the king select a crown prince. This is a major innovation, and the next royal transition will provide the first test of the new Commission.

Such a transition has been on Saudis’ minds because of the recent illness of the current Crown Prince, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. After lengthy treatment in the United States, the prince is now recuperating at a vacation home in Morocco. He reportedly has fully recovered, according to the government-run Saudi Press Agency. But both he and the king, his slightly older half-brother, are in their 80s, raising the prospect of new leadership in Saudi Arabia in the not-so-distant future.

King Abdullah also issued procedures for the work of the Commission. Its 35 members are chosen from among the sons and grandsons of country founder, King Abdul Aziz. Appointed for a term of four years, each must be at least 22 years old and recognized as a person of integrity. One of Abdul Aziz’s elder sons — currently Prince Mishaal — serves as chairman.

Upon the death of a king, the Commission should meet to ratify the crown prince’s ascension to the thone. Then, the new king should, after consulting the Commission, nominate up to three candidates to become crown prince. The Commission selects one by consensus. But if it rejects all the king’s candidates, it can nominate its own choice. If the king rejects him, then the Commission holds a secret ballot, with the winner declared by majority vote. The Commission can only meet with the King’s approval and its deliberations are secret, though minutes are taken. Two-thirds of its members constitute a quorum.

Of founder Abdul Aziz’s 37 sons, five have succeeded him as king since his death in 1953. King Saud was followed by Faisal, Khalid, and Fahd, whose death in 2005 brought Abdullah to the throne.

It had been customary for the Saudi king, who holds the title of Prime Minister, to appoint the Crown Prince as first deputy prime minister and the next eldest sibling as second deputy prime minister, a post seen as stepping-stone to that of Crown Prince.

Breaking with tradition, however, King Abdullah had declined to name anyone second deputy prime minister. But in March, he gave that title to Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz.

In a long and varied career, Nayef has served as: Riyadh's Emirate Deputy; Prince of Riyadh; Deputy Minister of interior; Minister of State for internal affairs; Minister of Interior; second Deputy Prime Minister.

Nayef is widely believed to be unenthusiastic about the social, educational and economic reforms that King Abdullah has set in motion. Some Saudis fear that Nayef would restore some of the influence lost by the religious establishment under the reigning monarch.

As a result, King Abdullah’s decision to name Nayef second deputy prime minister alarmed the more progressive wing of the royal family and elicited a rare public display of discord. Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, an outspoken reformist, publicly questioned the king’s move in a faxed statement to Reuters. “I call on the royal court to clarify what is meant by this nomination and that it does not mean that he (Prince Nayef) will become crown prince," the statement said. Prince Talal added that the appointment of Nayef as crown prince should be decided by the Allegiance Commission.

No matter how sharp family differences become behind closed doors, most observers expect its members to maintain a unified, cohesive front in public as they privately negotiate over the leading contenders to become Crown Prince.

Nayef’s age and power — he has been in his current post since 1975 — make him a front-runner for crown prince. Others mentioned as possibilities include Riyadh Governor Prince Salman, who has held his current job since 1962; Municipal Affairs Minister Prince Mitab and Saudi intelligence services chief Prince Miqrin.

The royal family’s second generation — now well-educated and wealthy — are eager to assume power while still in their prime.

But the next king and crown prince almost certainly will still be from the first generation, whose members are mostly in their 70s and 80s, raising the possibility that King Abdullah’s reign will be followed by a series of short-tenured monarchs.  

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