Dying Saudi Crown Prince sparks royal succession battle

Only rarely does the Saudi royal house issue medical bulletins on its rulers. debkafile‘s Saudi experts say that the bare announcement Monday, Nov. 23, that Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, 83 or 85, had left for the United States Sunday for “medical checkups” and treatment for cancer indicates that his condition is seen as terminal.
The race for the first-in-line-to-the throne position went into top gear last month. DEBKA-Net-Weekly 370 revealed on Oct. 31 that the crown prince had cut short his stay in Geneva after his Swiss and French doctors found they were unable to keep his intestinal cancer condition at bay. Yet Sultan said he would not quit as long as he was alive.
By disclosing his trip to the US, the royal house hopes to force him to step down and make way for a younger crown prince. Sultan has been holding grimly onto the No. 2 post to prevent his half-brother, King Abdullah, 85, from selecting foreign minister Saud a Faisal as his successor – so cutting the Sudairi challenger interior minister Prince Nayef and their clan out of the running. The Sudairis fear the Faisals would strip them not only of their claim to the throne but also of their traditional power bases, which include defense, the armed forces and the governate of Mecca.
To bring order to the haphazard royal succession system in the world’s largest oil exporter, King Abdullah recently set up an “allegiance council” to moderate the rivalries among the founding father’s tens of thousands of sons and grandsons and regulate the choice of crown prince and ruler.
On Oct. 31, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported: While Sultan was in Geneva last month with a relapse, King Abdullah sent his own half-brother Prince Mu’tib over with a proposition: If Sultan agreed to step aside, his son Prince Khaled bin Sultan would be appointed to defense in place of his father. The king pledged that none of Sultan’s sons would lose out on the deal and would in fact be promoted in the royal hierarchy. This promise would also apply to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who is not considered a full-blooded Sudairi scion but was gifted enough to serve for more than two decades as Saudi ambassador to Washington. He officiates at present as national security adviser. Sultan refused.
Because of his age, Abdullah feels he has no time to lose for naming his successor as ruler. He wants the crown prince’s slot vacated while he is in full command of his faculties and fit enough to force his choice of successor through the Allegiance Council. Above all, he wants to keep Prince Nayef away from the throne.
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