One faction is headed by Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto monarch today, backed by most of the Faisal branch of the royals; one Faisal is foreign minister. Abdullah, while no moderate, recognizes that Saudi girls will have to get some education, and I'm told he worries that the Palestinian dream of taking over Israel is dragging out a war that will one day trigger an internal Saudi explosion.
The opposition within the House of Saud is the Sudairi branch, headed by Prince Sultan, now the defense minister (and father of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar, a k a "Mr. Smoothie"). Sultan has a brother in charge of internal security, has control of oil and gas production and is locked into both the influential bin Laden family and the radical Wahhabi imams. Sultan spells trouble.
The rivals are both past their prime: Abdullah is 79, Sultan only a few years younger. The betting is that when the ailing King Fahd, now 83, dies, the Sudairis will let Abdullah become king, stepping up as crown princes are supposed to — on condition that the Faisal branch agree to appoint Sultan to be Abdullah's crown prince and successor.
But Abdullah knows he won't be king for long and does not want to pave the way for Sultan and his ultra-conservative Wahhabi backers. (Office politics are complicated everywhere.)