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Saudi Arabia: Royal Succession, Regional Turmoil

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In November 2010, the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, traveled to the United States for medical treatment, touching off rounds of fevered speculation about the prospects for succession in Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz's own frail health and recent convalescence in Morocco gave the speculation further life. Of course, due to the royal family's opaque approach to the issue, discussions of the internal rivalries that are reputed to divide the royal family are often based on mere conjecture. With little concrete information upon which to ground analysis, each decision of the royal family is then understood as a reflection of internal power-balancing arrangements.

Nevertheless, following apparently successful medical treatment and three months of convalescence, Abdullah returned home to a region that had undergone seismic changes, calling into question many of the assumptions about the Arab world and Saudi Arabia that had framed policy analysis and formulation as recently as the time of his departure. With protests spreading to previously quiescent corners of the region, an arc of political agitation now encircles Saudi Arabia, with incipient signs of internal ferment. ...

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