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A Strange, Strange System

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This fact is more than a novelty. As Saudi Arabia became a bigger and bigger force in world affairs this succession principle cast a mortal pall over the regime. Since the system went from one son of ibn Saud to the next - rather than the more traditional lineal system - just how many sons could there be and how long could they live? Well, as it turned out, quite a few and for quite a long time. ibn Saud sired 45 sons of which 36 lived to adulthood and had their own children. He is said to have had 22 wives.

But now they are coming to the end of the line.

Salman is a spry 79 but he is reputed to be in poor health. His successor will be Crown Prince Muqrin. But he's it - the last surviving son of ibn Saud at a youngish 69. After Muqrin dies, assuming he outlives Salman, the family will move on to the grandsons of ibn Saud, with a council of princes of some sort who will choose who succeeds who.

We will see then just how much the legitimacy of ibn Saud and the longevity of his sons was the key to holding the tightly wound edifice together.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.