Saudi king's illness stirs succession fears

MICHAEL SHERIDAN

Diplomatic Editor

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who is 73, was being treated in hospital yesterday for an undisclosed medical condition, prompting speculation on the international oil markets about a succession crisis.

The Saudi monarch was taken to the King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh on Thursday morning. He had just returned to the capital after several days in the desert.

"We are pleased to announce that all the check-ups conducted this morning on the Custodian of the two Holy Shrines are reassuring and, thank God, he is enjoying health and fitness," a statement from the royal court said late on Thursday.

King Fahd is overweight, suffers from diabetes and uses a stick for walking because of a painful knee. He underwent gall bladder surgery last year.

In a departure from tradition, the monarch's admission to hospital was publicised on the front pages of Saudi newspapers, broadcast on state television and was carried by the official news agency. But his ailment was not revealed.

The uncertainties about Saudi Arabia beyond King Fahd stem more from the inner politics of the royal family than an external threat, although the potential for instability in the region was emphasised by the recent car bomb in Riyadh which killed five Americans. The succession to the throne is brokered between the survivors among the 43 sons born by several wives to King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the kingdom, who lived from 1876 to 1953.

King Fahd's departure from the scene could cause uncertainty, because his brother and heir apparent, Crown Prince Abdullah, may face opposition among the 6,000 princes of the ruling dynasty.

In practice, modern court politics have been dominated by Fahd and his six full brothers born to Abdul Aziz's favourite wife, Hassa bint Ahmad Sudairi. The "Sudairi Seven" include the Defence Minister, Prince Sultan, the Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, and the governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman.

Some analysts believe the remaining Sudairi brothers would resist the succession of Crown Prince Abdullah, who is outside their ranks. Others believe the royal family could skip a generation and hand the throne to a figure such as theWestern-educated Foreign Minister, Prince Saud, son of the assassinated King Faisal.

"I think Fahd's death means instability for the country because his designated successor, Abdullah, is also old and unwell himself," said Said Aburish, author of a recent critical book about the kingdom.

King Fahd was shortly due to meet King Hussein of Jordan for the first time in five years, marking an important act of reconciliation after Jordan's estrangement from Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf war. Responding to a message of good wishes from King Hussein, the Saudi monarch said last night that his medical tests had been "reassuring".

Although in poor health, he appeared vigorous at a late night meeting three weeks ago with the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind. King Fahd complained about the activities of Saudi dissidents who have taken refuge in London, from where they campaign against his rule, denouncing it as corrupt.

Despite the abuse from the exiles, there is little sign of opposition in Saudi Arabia itself. The secret police and special security forces, armed and trained by the United States, keep hold of internal affairs. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy whose constitution is the Koran, permitting neither freedom of assembly nor religious dissent.

But King Fahd has overseen a measure of liberalisation, channelling the views of prominent families and merchant interests through an appointed consultative assembly. His chosen title, "Custodian of the two Holy Shrines", or "Servant of the two Holy Places", was selected to emphasise the royal family's rule over Mecca and Medina, an important source of prestige in the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest petroleum exporter, with about a quarter of global oil reserves, and is a close ally of the US and Britain. The royal family is criticised by religious purists and has acted to deal with an economic crisis caused by declining oil revenues.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence