Social challenges as Saudis draw throne’s future

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FILE- In this Wednesday, April 2, 2014, file photo released by Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, center, walks with governor of Riyadh Prince Khalid Bandar, left, after he receives oaths of loyalty in a traditional Islamic investiture ceremony that bestows his legitimacy, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia’s royals work out the succession of the throne behind closed doors, a few voices are raising the most sensitive matter of all in the kingdom, questioning the ruling Al Saud family’s claim to power and its unchecked rights to the country’s oil wealth. The next monarch will inherit a country where half of the population of 20 million people is under the age of 25, in need of jobs, access to housing, education and transportation. (AP Photo/SPA, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

FILE- In this Wednesday, April 2, 2014, file photo released by Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, center, walks with governor of Riyadh Prince Khalid Bandar, left, after he receives oaths of loyalty in a traditional Islamic investiture ceremony that bestows his legitimacy, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia’s royals work out the succession of the throne behind closed doors, a few voices are raising the most sensitive matter of all in the kingdom, questioning the ruling Al Saud family’s claim to power and its unchecked rights to the country’s oil wealth. The next monarch will inherit a country where half of the population of 20 million people is under the age of 25, in need of jobs, access to housing, education and transportation. (AP Photo/SPA, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

FILE – In this Wednesday, April 2, 2014, file photo released by Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, left, meets with diplomats in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia’s royals work out the succession of the throne behind closed doors, a few voices are raising the most sensitive matter of all in the kingdom, questioning the ruling Al Saud family’s claim to power and its unchecked rights to the country’s oil wealth. The next monarch will inherit a country where half of the population of 20 million people is under the age of 25, in need of jobs, access to housing, education and transportation. (AP Photo/SPA, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

FILE – In this Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 file photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, left, speaks with Prince Salman, the Saudi King’s brother and Riyadh Governor, right, before the King’s departure to United States, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia’s royals work out the succession of the throne behind closed doors, a few voices are raising the most sensitive matter of all in the kingdom, questioning the ruling Al Saud family’s claim to power and its unchecked rights to the country’s oil wealth. The next monarch will inherit a country where half of the population of 20 million people is under the age of 25, in need of jobs, access to housing, education and transportation. (AP Photo, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — While Saudi Arabia’s royals work out the succession of the throne behind closed doors, a few voices are raising the most sensitive matter of all in the kingdom, questioning the ruling Al Saud family’s claim to absolute power and its unchecked rights to the country’s oil wealth.

At least 10 Saudis in the past weeks have posted video statements on YouTube sharply criticizing the royal family and demanding change. At least three of those who appeared in videos have since been arrested, along with seven others connected to the videos, security officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

It is impossible to know how widespread the sentiments expressed in the videos are among the Saudi public. But the flurry of postings by Saudis is almost unheard-of and startling, given that public criticism of the king is strictly prohibited. It underlines the challenge that Saudi Arabia’s rulers have themselves recognized — that they must address the growing needs of the country’s youth, along with demands for transparency, reform and greater public participation in government.

At the same time, the royal family is facing an equally critical question: How to pass the throne to the next generation of Al Saud.

Since Abdulaziz Al Saud founded the kingdom in the 1930s, the throne has been passed down among his sons, of whom he had several dozen by multiple wives. The succession from brother to brother has been relatively smooth for decades. But the time is approaching when the family must decide which brother’s son will get the throne next, potentially putting the monarchy into one particular branch at the expense of the others.

King Abdullah, on the throne for nearly a decade, is almost 90 and recently appeared in public with an oxygen tube. His half-brother Prince Salman, in his late 70s, is the crown prince, the designated successor. Abdullah has already outlived two other half-brothers who held the crown prince post.

Two weeks ago, the kingdom took the unusual step of officially declaring the next in line after Salman, naming Prince Muqrin, who at 68 is the youngest of Abdulaziz’s sons.

Muqrin, a close aide of Abdullah, was chosen as a transitional figure toward the eventual handing of the torch to the next generation, said Joseph Kechichian, author of several books on the kingdom, including “Succession in Saudi Arabia.”

That handover is potentially divisive given the stakes. Analysts say there are more than a dozen princes among Abdulaziz’s grandsons from the various branches who could qualify for the throne after Muqrin.

The next monarch will inherit a country where half of the population of 20 million people is under the age of 25, in need of jobs, housing and education. The world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi

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