The King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Adbul Aziz, died Thursday night and paved the way for his brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to become the country’s new monarch — despite Salman reportedly having dementia and being in poor health.
The Washington Post reports that the 79-year-old Salman’s ascension will likely prompt a power struggle within the oil-rich nation.
“Despite so many people saying it will be a smooth transition, there’s every reason to believe that Saudi Arabia is heading for rough times,” Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told The Post. “Having a king with dementia is the last thing they need at this difficult time. Yemen is falling apart, ISIS is knocking at the door… this is an extraordinarily dangerous Middle East from a Saudi perspective.”
Saudi Arabia operates on a unique rule of succession. Instead of the crown passing to the eldest son of the deceased monarch, it has traditionally passed to the next oldest son of the country’s founder, King Adbulaziz bin Saud. There are only a few of Adbulaziz’s sons still alive and capable of ruling the country.
Before he died, Abdullah appointed a younger, healthier brother as “deputy heir” in what many consider was a measure done in response to Salman’s poor health. That “deputy heir”, Prince Muqrin, is expected to be appointed crown prince by Salman, even though in Saudi tradition a king is free to choose who he designates as his heir.
Muqrin’s appointment upset many within the very large Saudi ruling family and there’s a strong chance that intense feuding will break out amongst the many factions within the clan during Salman’s reign.