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The founder of the modern state of Saudi Arabia, Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud (1876-1953), was a grandson of the last effective nineteenth-century Saudi ruler, Faisal ibn Turki (1810- 66). Abd al Aziz restored the family from virtual political extinction by reintroducing the crusading zeal of Wahhabi Islam. By 1924, when the Ikhwan, a select force of beduin religious fighters created by Abd al Aziz, conquered the Hijaz, almost all the territory of the present-day Saudi state was under Abd al Aziz′s authority. In 1932 he proclaimed this territory the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and himself its king.
Abd al Aziz ruled until his death in 1953. He named his eldest son Saud ibn Abd al Aziz al Saud (1902-69) crown prince. Problems emerged soon after King Saud began his reign. Like his father, Saud had more than thirty sons, and he was ambitious to place them in positions of power and influence. The new king′s numerous brothers, who believed their nephews were too young and inexperienced to head ministries and major government departments, deeply resented their exclusion from power. The political and personal tensions among the Al Saud, combined with the extravagance and poor judgment of Saud, climaxed in a 1964 family coup. A number of brothers joined together to depose Saud and install as king the next eldest brother, Faisal ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud (1904-75). The transfer of power was endorsed by Saudi Arabia′s ulama, or religious authorities.
King Faisal strengthened the powers of the monarchy during his eleven-year reign. Although he had acted as prime minister during most of Saud′s rule, he issued a royal decree stipulating that the king would serve both as head of state and as head of government. Faisal also increased central control over the provinces by making local officials responsible to the king, creating a Ministry of Justice to regulate the autonomous religious courts, and establishing a national development plan to coordinate construction projects and social services throughout the country.
Faisal′s rule ended abruptly in 1975 when he was assassinated by one of his nephews. A meeting of senior Al Saud princes, the sons and surviving brothers of Abd al Aziz, acclaimed Crown Prince Khalid the new king, after his eldest brother Muhammad (born 1910) voluntarily stepped down. Because some of Khalid′s brothers, who would have been next in line of succession according to age, renounced their right to the throne, the king and the princes designated a younger brother, Fahd (born 1921), crown prince. Fahd ascended to the throne in 1982 after Khalid suffered a fatal heart attack. In consultation with his brothers, Fahd named Abd Allah (born 1923) crown prince and Sultan (born 1927) third in line of succession.
Power transmission
Abd al Aziz had not instituted any mechanism for orderly succession. Because he was survived by more than thirty sons, the lack of a process for passing on the mantle of kingship constituted a source of potential political instability for the country. When King Faisal came to the throne, his concern for orderly government and durable institutions extended to the monarchy. In 1965 he persuaded his brothers to observe the principle of birth order among themselves to regulate the succession, although the next eldest brother, Muhammad (born 1910), voluntarily stepped down in favor of Khalid (1912-82). The relatively smooth transitions following the deaths of Faisal and Khalid thus seemed to have resolved the issue of succession among the sons of Abd al Aziz. In 1992, however, Fahd altered the procedure for designating future kings. In a royal decree, Fahd declared that the king would henceforth name and could remove the crown prince. Furthermore, the crown prince would not automatically succeed on the death of the king, but serve as provisional ruler until he, or a descendant of Abd al Aziz deemed more suitable, was enthroned. Fahd′s decree on succession established two precedents: a royal prerogative to choose and to withdraw approval for the crown prince; and an acknowledgement that the more than sixty grandsons of Abd al Aziz were legitimate claimants to the throne. Previously, Saudi kings had not asserted the right to dismiss a designated crown prince. However, in declaring that successor kings would be chosen from the most suitable of Abd al Aziz′s sons and grandsons, Fahd implied that Abd Allah or any future crown prince was not necessarily the presumed heir to the throne.
Constitutional Framework
ÚSaudi Constitution March 1992
Chapter 2 Monarchy
Article 5
(a) The system of government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is that of a monarchy.
(b) Rule passes to the sons of the founding King, Abd al-Aziz Bin Abd al-Rahman al-Faysal Al Sa′ud, and to their children′s children. The most upright among them is to receive allegiance in accordance with the principles of the Holy Koran and the Tradition of the Venerable Prophet.
(c) The King chooses the Heir Apparent and relieves him of his duties by Royal order.
(d) The Heir Apparent is to devote his time to his duties as an Heir Apparent and to whatever missions the King entrusts him with.
(e) The Heir Apparent takes over the powers of the King on the latter′s death until the act of allegiance has been carried out.
Article 6 Citizens are to pay allegiance to the King in accordance with the holy Koran and the tradition of the Prophet, in submission and obedience, in times of ease and difficulty, fortune and adversity.
Article 7 Government in Saudi Arabia derives power from the Holy Koran and the Prophet′s tradition.
Article 8 Government Principles
Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on the premise of justice, consultation, and equality in accordance with the Islamic Shari′ah.
Article 60 The King is the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces. He appoints officers and puts an end to their duties in accordance with the law.
Article 63 The King receives Kings and Heads of State. He appoints his representatives to states, and he receives the credentials of state representatives accredited to him.
Article 64 The King awards medals, as defined by regulations.
Article 65 The King may delegate prerogatives to the Crown Prince by Royal decree.
Article 66 In the event of his travelling abroad, the King issues a Royal decree delegating to the Crown Prince the management of the affairs of state and looking after the interests of the people, as defined by the Royal decree.
Article 70 International treaties, agreements, regulations and concessions are approved and amended by Royal decree.
Power Limitation
Article 50 The King, or whoever deputizes for him, is responsible for the implementation of judicial rulings.
Article 55 The King carries out the policy of the nation, a legitimate policy in accordance with the provisions of Islam; the King oversees the implementation of the Islamic Shari′ah, the system of government, the state′s general policies; and the protection and defence of the country.
Article 61 The King declares a state of emergency, general mobilization and war, and the law defines the rules for this.
Article 62 If there is a danger threatening the safety of the Kingdom or its territorial integrity, or the security of its people and its interests, or which impedes the functioning of the state institutions, the King may take urgent measures in order to deal with this danger And if the King considers that these measures should continue, he may then implement the necessary regulations to this end.
(last updated: 09-December-2002)
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