Who will lead Saudi Arabia next?
That is the question silently occupying the leaders of world capitals — not to mention the heads of Arab nations in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, 90, is arguably the most powerful monarch in the Middle East, partly because his nation is one of the world’s largest oil exporters. The king also exerts a strong grip over political affairs in the region as well, blocking much of the influence of the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran.
During Israel’s counter terror Operation Protective Edge against Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization last summer, King Abdullah aligned with Jordan and Egypt to neutralize the influence of Qatar, Turkey and Iran during Israel’s indirect cease-fire talks with Hamas, brokered by Cairo.
Last Wednesday Abdullah was admitted to the King Abdulaziz Medical Center in Riyadh after suffering breathing difficulties. By Friday, he required temporary assistance of a tube to help him breathe, but his condition has since stabilized, according to the royal court.
Nevertheless, Friday’s procedure increased speculation about who will be next in line for the throne, despite the fact that the monarch’s condition has stabilized.
The king appointed his half-brother, Prince Salman, to be heir apparent in June 2012. But Salman, 78, is reputed to be in poor health.
Last year Abdullah also appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to be deputy crown prince as well, ensuring an heir already in place to succeed Salman if the need arises.
Mit’ib, youngest son of King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia who is known as Ibn Saud, is a minister and commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG.) There is speculation by analysts that Abdullah may have arranged with Muqrin to appoint Mit’ib as his crown prince, thus securing the monarchy for the House of Saud.