When Crown Prince Salman ascended the Saudi throne on Friday, after the death of his elder brother Abdullah, he broke a previous record by becoming the sixth of the sons of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Kingdom, to ascend the throne. He did nothing new by naming younger brother Muqrin Crown Prince, but by naming his nephew Muhammad bin Naif the Deputy Crown Prince, he began the task of keeping the descendants of Abdul Aziz on that throne, by beginning the transition to the next generation.

By naming the son of Prince Naif the next in line, he merely accepted a harsh reality: after Muqrin, there will be no more sons of Abdul Aziz. The next generation will have to take over. That generation has been kept waiting long enough so that it too has grown old. Even in Abdullah’s reign, two Crown Princes died. Muhammad himself is 56. One of its most prominent members is Saud al-Faisal, who has been remarkable for two things. First, he is the eldest son of King Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz, second, he has been Foreign Minister since 1975, holding a portfolio which his father had once held. He is 75, thus ensuring that if the Saudi dynasty continues to rule, the regime will continue to be a gerontocracy.

One of the advantages of a monarchy is supposed to be continuity of the sort provided by long reigns. The Saudi dynasty does not provide that, because kings are already old when they succeed. Abdullah, for all his great age, only reigned nine years, and none of the brothers has come near matching the 31 years their father was King. The certainty of succession that is supposed to be one of the advantages of monarchy is shown up by the Saudi example as being incorrect. This may be because the dynasty does not follow primogeniture, which has the eldest son succeed, though they observe the Salic law, in that females are excluded from the succession.

The Saudi monarch has two reasons of importance. First, he rules the single most important oil exporter of the world. Second, he is custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a title adopted by Abdullah’s predecessor, Fahd. As such, he is the guarantor of the peace of the Muslim world. Both roles have assumed importance now, and both have posed special challenges.

Oil prices have been driven down, and Saudi action, or rather inaction, is responsible for it. This has created an economic crisis, not least for Russia and Iran. Saudi Arabia thus helped the US against Russia, while also harming Iran, which it sees as a regional rival. At the same time, the War on Terror has seen important Saudi involvement. Though Osama bin Laden was based in Afghanistan during 9/11, not only did he belong to a family that had literally helped build Saudi Arabia, but the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudis. Starting from this, the Saudi dynasty has found itself on the American side in the ensuing War on Terror, with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) one of the most active of its divisions.

Saudi Arabia has found itself conforming to US wishes for the wrong reasons. The two do not see eye to eye on Israel, but did on Afghanistan, while they were both opposed to the Soviet invasion, not just because Communism was godless, but because it provided an ideology by which the dynasty could be overthrown. The Saudis are at the forefront of the US attempt to topple Bashar, not because he oppresses his people, but because he is an Alawite Shia. The religious component is behind the sectarianism. The dynasty came into existence because of an alliance between the reformer Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and a tribal chieftain, Muqrin ibn Saud. It is that Muqrin after whom the Crown Prince is named.

By naming Muhammad bin Naif, King Salman seems to be addressing two issues. First, he is going down the line, superseding a large number of princes of the next generation. Muhammad is not even the son of a King, and perhaps more important, his elder brother has been superseded. Second, Muhammad has been Interior Minister since 2012, and thus in charge of the dynasty’s fight against militancy. Muqrin, as head of the Saudi intelligence agency, has also been personally involved in the War on Terror.

The US has benefited from the Saudi dynasty’s oil wealth not just in terms of the leverage over the world oil price it has gained this way, but of the access thereby gained to immense oil wealth. The US has benefited by the arms sales it has made, as well as the contracts it has won.

The King, himself no stripling at 80, was Defence Minister from 2012, having previously been the longtime governor of Riyadh, which is not just the Saudi capital, but also the hometown of the dynasty. As governor, he was hardly insulated from foreigners, who provided many of the services which helped him transform the decidedly provincial town he took over in 1968 into the bustling metropolis of today. He too has been involved in the War on Terror, but even if he wasn’t, he would still be King by virtue of being the eldest surviving son of Abdul Aziz.

The Saudis have maintained a Baia Council, which gives the King allegiance. This is not just an inheritance from the Ottomans the Saudis succeeded, but also fulfils the requirement of the Wahhabi school of thought the dynasty follows and the Hanafi school the Ottomans followed. The difference is that this baia is owed to a Caliph, not a king, independent of any caliph. Indeed, the Caliphate stands abolished, and when Abdul Aziz declared he was king, the Ottoman Caliphate had been abolished. Thus there has been an inevitable conflict built with the ISIS-proclaimed Caliph, who would naturally want to control the Hajj, and thus take the Harmain from the Saudis.

The dynasty has been extremely generous with its oil wealth, and naturally funded the spread of the Muuwahidoon (as Wahhabis like to be called) brand of Islam it espouses. The Ash-Shaikh family descended from Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab, hold the descendants of Muqrin ibn Saud to the compact he made to support the religious ideas of Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab, provided he was supported in his effort to rule.

Pakistan does not just respect the dynasty ruling the Harmain Sharifain. Like the Saudi dynasty, it is a close US ally. It also looks to Saudi Arabia to help it in its domestic issues, as happened when the Present Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, spent the nine years of his exile under Musharraf there. One of his Cabinet members, Ahsan Iqbal, was Adviser to Prince Muqrin in that period. Pakistan is in the awkward position of not being able to do anything, but at least it should realise that vast upheavals are taking place, and in a few years, it will have a new generation to deals with. With time, the sons of Abdul Aziz will all be gone, but the Saudi dynasty will remain. And so will the Arab peninsula. And so will Pakistan. Unless the Almighty plans differently, though that will be a challenge for the policymakers of that time.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.