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Ripple effect: Prince Nayef likely to become heir to Saudi King

Ripple effect: Prince Nayef likely to become heir to Saudi King

With a reputation as a conservative, even by Saudi standards, where will Prince Prince Nayef take the Kingdom in his potential new role as heir to the throne?

October 23, 2011 4:48 by

Saudi Arabia’s powerful interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, is now likely to become heir to the throne after the death of Crown Prince Sultan.

Prince Nayef, who is about 77, is considered a conservative even by Saudi standards for his close ties with the austere Wahhabi sect of Islam, a pivotal figure in the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The royal court announced the death of Prince Sultan, who was thought to be aged about 86, in New York of colon cancer at dawn on Saturday.

As second deputy prime minister, Prince Nayef is first in line to become crown prince, but he would have to be confirmed in that position by the Allegiance Council, a body of royals set up by King Abdullah after he came to the throne in 2005.

Prince Nayef, already one of the most senior princes, has supervised the daily affairs of the Kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, in the absence of both the King, who has suffered from back problems, and Prince Sultan in the past.

His emergence as the most active senior member of the ruling family has caused liberal Saudis some disquiet because of his close ties to the powerful clergy of the Kingdom’s austere Wahhabi school of Islam.

But if he became king, Prince Nayef might move towards the centre ground of a political system that prizes consensus, allowing the slow process of economic and social reforms initiated by King Abdullah to continue.

Prince Nayef was born in the western city of Taif around 1934 and is the half-brother of King Abdullah and son of the state’s founder, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud.

He became governor of Riyadh at the age of 20 and has been interior minister since 1975. He was appointed second deputy prime minister in 2009 when Sultan left the country to convalesce after medical treatment.

That appointment put him in line to become crown prince.

The Allegiance Council, which King Abdullah will convene to confirm the succession for the first time, has the task of approving his choice of crown prince or nominating its own candidate instead.

Prince Nayef’s three decades as interior minister have allowed him to extend his authority across government into foreign policy, religious affairs and the media.

He oversees arrangements for the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, when 2 million Muslims gather in the birthplace of Islam, and heads security cooperation with Yemen and other countries trying to stem the flow of infiltrators, drugs smugglers and arms traffickers across Saudi borders.

Conservative even by Saudi Arabia’s standards, Prince Nayef is sometimes portrayed as putting the brakes on the King’s cautious political reforms.

Earlier this year he publicly admonished a member of the mainly consultative Shura Council who had called for a review of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.

It was also Prince Nayef who ended months of speculation in the run-up to partial elections in February 2005 as to whether women would be allowed to vote or stand for office. Prince Nayef said it was too soon for women to take part — and the debate was over.

Analysts say Prince Nayef may take a more moderate line if he becomes King, and note that the present monarch was portrayed as a staunch conservative when he became crown prince in 1995, but proved to be a sometimes ambitious reformer as King.

Prince Nayef raised eyebrows in the West after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US when he…


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