(Adds more background and quotes on his views about Iran and
By Angus McDowall
RIYADH, March 27 Saudi Arabia's Prince Muqrin
bin Abdulaziz, a former intelligence chief in the conservative
Islamic kingdom, has been appointed deputy crown prince, making
it likely he will one day become king.
The appointment makes Muqrin, the youngest son of the
kingdom's founder King Abdulaziz al-Saud, next in line to
succeed King Abdullah in the world's top oil exporter and
birthplace of Islam after his half-brother Crown Prince Salman.
"Prince Muqrin is granted allegiance as deputy crown prince,
a crown prince if the position becomes vacant and to be given
allegiance as king of the country if both the positions of crown
prince and king become vacant at the same time," a royal court
The announcement gives more assurance to the kingdom's
long-term succession process at a time when Riyadh sees itself
as being an island of stability amid conflict and political
turmoil across the Middle East.
U.S. President Barack Obama visits Riyadh on Friday to meet
King Abdullah at a time of frosty relations between the old
allies over their differing approaches to the multiple crises
afflicting the region.
U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks appear to show
Muqrin as sharing Abdullahs's views that Western countries
should take a strong line against Shi'ite Iran, which they see
as pursuing an expansionist agenda in Arab countries.
In a 2009 cable, he was quoted telling diplomats that the
Shi'ite crescent where the Muslim sect has traditionally held
sway was in danger of "becoming a full moon" thanks to Iranian
support for its coreligionists at the expense of Sunnis.
In the same cable, which recorded a conversation soon after
Obama took office, he said of the new president, "I like his
attitude", before adding "he'll meet the facts later... many
people are not as good-hearted as he is".
Saudi criticisms of Obama's Middle East policy have revolved
around their concerns that the White House has not stood up
strongly enough to Iran or its ally, Syrian President Bashar
Muqrin, who trained as a fighter pilot in Britain in his
youth, is seen as likely to continue the cautious economic and
social reforms begun by King Abdullah, say analysts.
"He reads books. He's into music and art. I think he is from
the more moderate school of Saudi politics," said Jamal
Khashoggi, head of a television news station owned by
billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
King Abdullah turned 90 last year and Crown Prince Salman is
Muqrin already holds the position of second deputy prime
minister, a role to which he was appointed a year ago and was
traditionally but informally seen as being equivalent to crown
prince in waiting.
However, there is no formal line of succession in Saudi
Arabia beyond the king and crown prince and some analysts had
speculated that it would pass to another member of the ruling
family. The role of deputy crown prince is a new creation.
Under rules governing the succession, drawn up by King
Abdullah a decade ago, a new monarch is empowered to select an
heir himself from within the ruling al-Saud family, so long as
an internal council agreed to his choice.
Crown Prince Salman and that family body, the Allegiance
Council, have accepted Muqrin as the deputy crown prince, SPA
reported, indicating he will automatically become Salman's heir
when King Abdullah dies.
Muqrin, a graduate of the British Royal Air Force Academy
and former military pilot, was born in 1945 according to the
Saudi embassy in Washington. He has also been governor of Hail
and Medina provinces and a special adviser to King Abdullah.
By making Muqrin second-in-line to rule, King Abdullah is
also delaying the moment when the al-Saud must make the
difficult decision over how to move the succession to the next
generation of the family.
As Muqrin is younger than some of his nephews who might
otherwise qualify to become crown prince or king, his
appointment would appear to rule them out of the running.
"It will be instructive in due course to see who follows
Muqrin in the eventual line of succession as that is when the
shift to the grandsons of King Abdulaziz will have to take
place," said Kristian Ulrichsen, Gulf expert at the U.S.-based
The fact the Allegiance Council formally agreed to the
appointment is also significant. Set up by King Abdullah in 2006
to help clarify the kingdom's opaque succession process, it was
not formally used in the appointments of either Crown Prince
Salman or his predecessor, the late prince Nayef.
That had led some analysts to question whether it would ever
become an effective instrument of decision making in the ruling
(Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi, Yara Bayoumy and Stephen
Kalin, Editing by Janet Lawrence and Angus MacSwan)