The House of Saud is Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family. It is estimated to have some 15,000 members but the majority of wealth and power is concentrated in a 2,000 strong group.
The family is composed of the descendants of Muhammad bin Saud and his brothers, though the ruling faction of the family is primarily led by the descendants of Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s first monarch.
King Abdulaziz established the kingdom in 1932 and ruled until his death in 1953, a period in which Saudi assumed growing geo-political importance because of its huge oil resources, developed with US partners.
The king holds almost absolute political power however support from the Ulema, the merchant community, and the population at large has been key to the maintenance of the royal family’s status quo.
A select group of princes at the top of government control the most important portfolios such as foreign affairs, intelligence and defence.
Religious conservatives were behind uprisings in 1927 and 1979 and backed the Islamist sahwa protest movement of the 1990s, while the most recent serious challenge to Saudi rule came from al Qaeda last decade.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, becomes the first grandson of the kingdom’s founding monarch to take an established place in the line of succession.
In the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, ostentatious displays of grief are frowned upon; after previous deaths of Saudi monarchs and top royals, there was no official period of mourning and flags were at full mast.