Syed Saleem Shahzad is the Karachi bureau chief for Asia Times.  --  Shahzad's Friday report that "sources close to the Saudi royal family" report that the condition of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd "has worsened with the monarch slipping out of consciousness," and that "speculation is rife among Riyadh's ruling elite of Fahd's clinical death" was carried by ADNKronos International, an Italian news agency....

Saudi Arabia

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ADN Kronos International
April 29, 2005

RIYADH -- Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah's visit to the United States this week to discuss oil matters with President George W. Bush, took place amid growing speculation back home that the bed-ridden King Fahd's condition has worsened with the monarch slipping out of consciousness.  Speculation is rife among Riyadh's ruling elite of Fahd's clinical death -- but even if this were true, any official announcement would delayed until a final decision on Fahd's successor has been taken.

Sources close to the Saudi royal family told Adnkronos International about the "suspicious" disappearance of King Fahd from public scene in the last ten days. At the same time, the sources have noted frantic activity involving the Seven Sudaris -- the seven sons of King Abdul Aziz's wife, who hailed from Saudi Arabia's Sudari tribe, around whom the succession question revolves -- King Fahd and Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz are two of the most powerful Sudari seven.

Crown Prince Abdullah -- who is Fahd's half brother -- has long been touted to ascend the throne, but well-placed sources maintain that there is resistance from other Sudari seven members who favor closer ties with the West, something which Abdullah, who is very popular among Saudi religious circles, seems reluctant to cultivate. However, past efforts to promote the more Western-friendly defense minister Prince Sultan as Crown Prince instead of Abdullah failed because of division among the Sudaris.

Abdullah seems likely to remain the main beneficiary of internal Sudari squabbling, and already three years ago, he set up a Royal Council including all the 65 sons of the late King Abdul Aziz to settle all disputes related to the monarchy.

It is believed that Abdullah is more acceptable to the majority of the Royal Council members than any other candidate. However, the succession is unlikely to be smooth and a new phase of conflict could start in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, also a strategic hub in the war against terrorism given the Saudi origins of most of the September 11, 2001 hijackers, and Osama bin Laden is thought to have many supporters in the country's military and religious establishments.