RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — King Abdullah appointed one of his sons on Sunday as the new governor of Mecca, a prestigious and influential position that includes oversight of Islam's holiest shrine, the state media reported.
The 43-year-old Prince Mishaal, who is the king's sixth son, will govern the province of Mecca which is home to the Kaaba, the black cube-shaped structure toward which Muslims pray, as well as the large Red Sea city of Jiddah. The move is a reflection of how the 89-year-old king has steadily put his closest relatives in top posts since his ascension to the throne in 2005.
News of the royal order was published in state-owned media. The Saudi Press Agency reported that Mishaal will take over the job from 73-year-old Prince Khalid, who oversaw Mecca's affairs for six years. Khalid was named the new Education Minister. The outgoing minister, Prince Faisal who is also the king's son-in-law, requested he be relieved of the post, the report said.
Another of the king's sons, Prince Mutaib, is head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, while his son Prince Abdulaziz is the deputy foreign minister and another son, Prince Turki, is deputy governor of the capital Riyadh.
But unlike in Western monarchies, the throne passes through brothers who are the sons of modern Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's last standing absolute monarchies and authority is concentrated within an aging and shrinking circle of Al Saud family leaders.
King Abdullah has already outlived two appointed successors from among the elderly group of sons of Saudi Arabia's founding monarch. He named his half-brother, 76-year-old Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, as Crown Prince last year to succeed him. Salman had previously served for almost 50 years in the influential post of governor of Riyadh.
Before Sunday's appointment, the king's son Mishaal was governor of Najran, a southwestern mountainous region of Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen and has a significant population of Ismaili Shiites, an offshoot of the kingdom's Shiite minority.