SAUDI Arabia’s royal family which is currently in a power play to rule Middle Eastern world politics is a hierarchy of mega wealthy closely-related backstabbing princes.
The campaign by Saudi Arabia to oust its ultra wealthy neighbour Qatar — the world’s richest nation — from trading with other countries is seen by some as a tactic by the current Saudi ruler and his heir.
But the ruling His Highness King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who entertained Donald Trump on the US President’s first Middle East tour, is well-versed in power grabs.
The 25th son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, Salman is one of 36 surviving sons of the 45 male children and many daughters.
The vast Saudi reserves of petroleum discovered during Ibn Saud’s reign still funds the lifestyles of the kingdom’s heirs.
Thousands of Saudi princes who are King Ibn Saud’s grandsons and great grandsons live lavish lifestyles far away from the kingdom, on the French Riviera and in Spain’s exclusive holiday spots.
They own French chateaus, Swiss bank accounts and some of the world’s largest yachts.
King Salman is worth a reputed $17 billion and owns a villa in Vallauris Golfe-Juan, in southeastern France where closure of the local beach during his annual holiday incenses locals.
Salman has lived a gilded life as one of the founding Saudi king’s favourite sons.
King Salman is one of the “Magnificent Seven”, the seven sons of Ibn Saud’s favourite and tenth wife Hassa al Sudairi.
Married to the king at the age of 13, not only was she beautiful but rose to most prominent wife because she bore him the most sons.
Until more recently Saudi Arabia’s royal family practised “agnatic seniority” which means the monarch’s younger brother succeeds to the throne over the monarch’s own sons.
The latter system, known as primogeniture and employed by the British royal family’s system makes Prince Charles followed by Prince William as the line to succeed Queen Elizabeth.
The late King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud now has more than a thousand grandsons who intermarry within the dynasty to re-establish their lineage and status within the ruling clan.
The power hungry rivalry between these sons of Saud is a story of deposition, exile and even murder.
The ruthless grab for the rights of succession can be seen in the recent overthrow by the King’s son Mohammad bin Salman of his cousin Muhammad bin Nayef as the new Crown Prince.
Almost all powers under the king are now concentrated in the hands of the new crown prince, who is also the defence minister.
During Trump’s visit, Mohammad bin Salman made the dominant play of securing Saudi Arabia’s single biggest arms deal in history, worth $350 billion.
Following his father’s move against Yemen, which King Salman bombed just three months after succeeding half brother King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman has moved against Qatar.
Despite claiming Qatar must be ostracised because of its links to terrorism, Saudi’s move is seen by some as a bully boy tactic against a wealthy neighbouring rival.
But the princes of Saud cut their baby teeth in palace revolt, evidenced by the facts of their family history.
Ibn Saud, who ruled from his teenage years until his death aged 88 in 1953, was succeeded by his son Saud from his second wife.
King Saud ruled for 11 years but his lavish spending led to a power struggle with his half brother, Crown Prince Faisal, son of Ibn Saud’s third wife.
The royal family forced Saud to abdicate in favour of Faisal, and then Saud was deposed and exiled.
King Faisal ruled until 1975, when he was assassinated by his nephew Faisal bin Musaid.
The nephew was promptly beheaded.
Another half brother Khalid, by King Ibn Saud’s six wife, took the throne.
His seven year reign, which ended in his fatal heart attack in 1982 was marked by his religious conservatism.
In 1977, one of King Ibn Saud’s great granddaughters, Princess Mishaal bin Fahd al Saud was executed by firing squad at the age of 19 for alleged adultery.
She had fallen in love with the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Khaled, while studying there.
Princess Mishaal was blindfolded, made to kneel and publicly executed on the explicit instructions of her grandfather. Khaled was forced to watch and then beheaded.
She would not be the last member of Saudi’s royal family to suffer a public execution.
King Khalid was succeeded by Fahd, the eldest of the “Magnificent Seven”.
King Fahd oversaw the closest period of Saudi-US relations before the Donald Trump era and steered the country through the 1980s oil price collapse and the First Gulf War.
He also enjoyed big spending during his 23 year rule.
Even after a stroke incapacitated him in 1995, he would fly in on his personal 747 aeroplane with a huge entourage to Marbella, Spain for his annual holiday enjoyed in his wheelchair.
Crown Prince Abdullah, first son of Ibn Saud’s tenth wife, was made king in 2005 and ruled until his death in 2015.
In 2016, the royal family publicly beheaded Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer after he was convicted of shooting another man to death during a brawl.
The sixth of the “Magnificent Seven” sons of Hassa al Sudairi, and the current King Salman took over.
Today’s Saudi cabinet is littered with the male heirs of King Ibn Saud.
So is the list of the world’s richest men with Prince Al-Waleed bin Taleel being named 34th richest in the world with a $28 billion fortune.
Despite introducing a domestic austerity program to respond to low oil prices, the current Saudi monarch flies around in luxury jets and helicopters with an enormous retinue.
In May this year, it was a triumphant moment for him to welcome President Trump in May.
After the signing of the massive arms deal, the king duly presented Trump with his nation’s highest honour, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Trump caused controversy by appearing to kneel before the king to accept the golden medallion around his neck.
It remains to be seen how Qatar will weather the demands by Saudi Arabia and its friends, backed by the United States.
Behind Qatar, the United States and Saudi Arabia are the tenth and eleventh richest countries in the world.