The Allegiance Council (Arabic: هيئة البيعة Hay’at al-Bay‘ah; also known as the Allegiance Commission or Allegiance Institution is the body responsible for determining future succession to the throne of Saudi Arabia. It was formed on 7 December 2007 by King Abdullah. At the time of its formation, the Council's intended function was to appoint a Crown Prince once a new King succeeds to the throne.
Previously, under Chapter 2 of the Basic Law promulgated by King Fahd, the appointment of the next in line was the sole prerogative of the King:
The appointment of a successor by the King was usually done with some form of informal consensus among members of the royal family. However, after Prince Abdullah succeeded Fahd as King, the behind-the-scenes battles over the future of the monarchy intensified, particularly between Prince Abdullah and the Sudairi princes, including Prince Sultan and late Prince Nayef. Due to increasing uncertainty of succession beyond Prince Sultan, King Abdullah issued the Allegiance Institution Law in 2006, which formally established the Allegiance Council. The Council gave additional voice to members of the Al Saud when a new King selects his Crown Prince.
According to an October 2009 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, the Al Saud described the Council as a "codification of the unwritten rules that have governed the selection of Saudi rulers since the passing of King Abdulaziz in 1953."
The role of the Council was intended to take effect once late Prince Sultan succeeded to the throne. However, in 2009, when he was gravely ill with cancer, late Prince Nayef was appointed Second Deputy Prime Minister (a position for the crown prince in waiting), presumably to keep the position of Crown Prince within the Sudairi faction. This led to uncertainty over the role of the Council. The appointment of late Prince Nayef was openly questioned by Prince Talal.
The Council supposedly undertook its duties for the first time when Prince Sultan died in October 2011. One week after his death, King Abdullah announced that the Council had selected Prince Nayef as the new Crown Prince. However, the Council just swore allegiance to Nayef as Crown Prince. Whether or not it actually voted the selection remained unclear.
Similar apparent dysfunctionality of the council was also observed in regard to the appointment of Prince Salman as Crown Prince in June 2012. Prince Talal stated that the princes on the Council were not consulted on the succession of Prince Salman and that the Council became ineffective.
When King Abdullah died in 2015, Salman became king and Prince Muqrin, the youngest surviving half brother, became Crown prince automatically, having been appointed Deputy Crown Prince a year earlier.
Under the Allegiance Institution Law, the King nominates up to three candidates for the position of Crown Prince. The Allegiance Council then selects one of them as Crown Prince. If the Council rejects all of the King's nominees, it may nominate its own candidate. The Crown Prince will be then decided by a vote among the Council:
The Council also preempts the possibility of the King becoming incapacitated. In the event the King permanently loses his ability to exercise his powers, the Council will declare the Crown Prince as King. If both the King and the Crown Prince become permanently incapacitated, the Council will form a five-member Transitory Ruling Council to temporarily assume administration of the Kingdom. The Council will also select a new King within seven days. Despite all these detailed legal description, the Council has never been activated and was not active in the appointments of the crown princes; in 2011, namely Prince Nayef and in 2012, namely Prince Salman
The foundation of the Council was seen as way to diminish the influence of the Sudairi brothers, who could be easily outvoted in the Council. Despite this, the Sudairis are said to have influence over more than half the council members.
Influence of the Council
With the promotion of Crown Prince Sultan's three successors deemed automatic, and the King's writ on the subject of the appointment of the second deputy PM (the honorific "deputy crown prince" being much more recent than the position itself), the Council has proved to be little more than a "rubber stamp".
After almost a year with the post of second deputy Prime Minister vacant. Prince Muqrin was formally designated by royal decree in 2013. This meant that he was informally next in line, bypassing several senior princes. In order to make his place in the line of succession permanent and preclude any challenges by any of the dispossessed royals, King Abdullah polled each member of the Allegiance Council individually before announcing Maqrin's new title. The poll, which is considered an official vote, was 75% Yes and 25% No.
The royal decree stated that the election “may not be modified or changed in any way or form by any person whoever it may be”, precluding a King Salman from capriciously choosing someone else, which is exactly what would happen three months into the new reign.
Upon the death of King Abdullah, Prince Muqrin became Crown Prince automatically, and Salman decreed that his full nephew Muhammed bin Nayef become the first of his generation to be in the line of succession, the Council ratified this a few days later unanimously, confirming its position as a rubber stamp.
At the end of April 2015, barely three months into his reign, King Salman dismissed Prince Muqrin from his post as Crown Prince. Prince Muhammad was automatically promoted and Prince Mohammed bin Salman was declared Deputy Crown Prince. The Council met the following day to ratify the decision, which it did 28 to 4, with 2 abstentions.
The members of the council include surviving sons of Abdulaziz, grandsons whose fathers are deceased, incapacitated or unwilling to assume the throne and the sons of the King and Crown Prince. As of 1 April 2013 the council had 28 members: 9 surviving sons of Abdulaziz and his 19 grandsons, each representing his deceased or incapacitated father.
However, the line of Hamoud bin Abdulaziz is not represented in the Council, since he died without a son. One of King Abdulaziz's sons, Prince Fawwaz, was a member at the Council, but died in 2008 without sons. Grandson of Turki (I), Turki bin Faisal, died on 28 February 2009 and was replaced by his brother, Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki. Bandar bin Musaid also replaced his brother, Abdullah bin Musaid.
Prince Talal resigned from the Council three weeks after the appointment of Prince Nayef as Crown Prince in November 2011. His resignation meant one of his sons might take a position on the Council,in the future.
In December 2011, Saud bin Nayef was appointed as a member of the Council since his father, late Prince Nayef could not have a seat in the Council due to being then crown prince.
The Council was chaired by Prince Mishaal, who had been excluded from the line of succession. Members of the Council swear an oath of allegiance to the King.