King Abdullah's decree appointing his half-brother Prince Muqrin as second in line to the throne has upset a powerful clan in the royal family and looks set to prolong the turmoil over the kingdom's troubled succession.
The Sudayri clan, which owns most of the oil wealth and the lion's share of media outlets, is upset by an article in the recent decree which assumes a simultaneous and double vacancy of the throne. It says that if both the current King and Crown Prince Salman, resign, die or are declared unfit for office, the crown passes automatically to Prince Muqrin.
Salman is one of the remaining Sudayri Seven, the seven sons of Hassa bint Ahmad Al Sudayri, one of the 22 women King Abdulaziz married to expand his power base in Nejd, the Wahhabi heartland. Salman has denied claims he has Alzheimer's but those close to him are concerned that in the event of the King's death or resignation, those claims could be used by the Bay'ah or the Allegiance Council to declare him unfit for office, thus handing the crown to a half brother Muqrin.
The Sudayri's are suspicious of the motives for declaring a successor to Salman before he becomes King. It robs Salman of the power to appoint his own crown prince, which in this case would be the former interior minister Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. It cuts the clan out of the line of succession.
The decree itself is open to challenge. The Bay'ah itself did not meet, but its 32 emirs were individually canvassed about the King's decree. There is nothing to stop Salman going to the Bay'ah either collectively or individually and reversing the decree in the event of the King's resignation, death or incapacitation.
If Muqrin became king, his ally Prince Bandar, the spy chief whose political fortunes have waxed and waned, would power back to prominence. Bandar himself would have been considered a Sudayri, being the son of Prince Sultan, another of the Sudayri Seven, but for the fact that he was the son of an African concubine. He was rejected by his father, grew up in Riyadh suburb, and worked his way back to Royal attention by a career in the Air force. He was noticed by his uncle King Fadh and taken in by Saud al-Faisal, the world's long serving foreign minister.
Bandar who is recovering from a cancer scare is engaged in his own battle to recover influence in the royal court. He lost what he believed to be the biggest card in his hand, when the Syria file was handed to a rival Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister. Bin Nayef refuses to hand it back, believing he has cast iron protection.
Aside from royal intrigues, Saud al-Faisal's foreign policy is attracting public criticism. A conservative cleric Salman al- Awda, who rose to prominence by publishing an open letter criticising the regime's response to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, has become outspoken in his criticism. He told the New York Times in an interview:" The Gulf governments are fighting Arab democracy, because they fear it will come here. Look what they have done in Egypt -- sending billions of dollars right after the coup last summer. This is a Gulf project, not an Egyptian project. And the Saudi government is losing its friends. If it continues on this path, it will lose its own people and invite disaster." Awdah has 4.5 million followers on Twitter.
Critics of Saud al-Faisal are disturbed by the number of enemies the kingdom has made by making its support for the military coup in Egypt the cornerstone of its foreign policy. On the one hand, it has alienated Qatar, by threatening to lay siege to it by land and air and insisting it close down Al Jazeera and two prestigious US think tanks in Doha. On the other, Riyadh has lost Iran completely.
Evidence of that was a deal signed by the Iranian President Hasan Rouhani on his first visit to Muscat to lay a $1 billion gas pipeline between Iran and Oman. A senior Iranian official was also quoted as saying Iran is considering building an oil terminal, outside the Straits of Hormuz in the Sea of Oman at Bandar Jask port.
Both are shrewd geopolitical moves which bypass the major oil ports in the Persian gulf. Iran is taking Oman out of Saudi dominance. Qatar has already left , followed by Kuwait who was in the middle of brokering a deal between the two gulf states and felt humiliated by Saudi moves to slam the door on Qatar. So what is now left of the Gulf states loyal to the Saudis? Only tiny Bahrain and the Emiratis. Many within the kingdom are wondering how wise such a foreign policy has been.