Saudi Arabia tries to reassure over rulers’ health
Key global player wants to show stability, responsibility; Confusion still surrounds rulers' health; Princes vie for position, fate of reforms at stake.
November 22, 2010 10:25 by Reuters
But confusion still swirls over the real state of health of both men and what will happen to Abdullah’s policies.
Western diplomats in Riyadh — who often compare the game of analysing policy and personnel moves in the notoriously closed dynasty to Kremlin watching — say they remain in the dark.
When the state news agency said last week that Abdullah’s son Mitab would take control of the National Guard, an elite Bedouin corps that handles domestic security, it shied away from stating directly that the king had relinquished control.
“The place of Saudi Arabia is now is so important considering Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan — Washington and all the West really need stability in Saudi Arabia,” said Mai Yamani, a Saudi analyst based in London.
A Saudi intelligence tip-off helped Western governments stop package bombs destined for the United States that were sent on planes out of Yemen last month. Riyadh plans to buy up to $60 billion worth of arms from the United States, in what analysts see as U.S.-Saudi efforts to challenge rising power Iran.
While official media seek to present family unity, tensions remain between the senior princes over who will run the country and over securing positions for their sons in the future political architecture of the absolute monarchy.
Rulers have so far all been sons of founder Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud and many of the 18 million Saudis want to see the gerontocracy pass power on to a new generation.
Abdullah appointed Interior Minister Prince Nayef, his comparatively youthful half-brother at around 76, as second deputy prime minister last year, making it clear who will be in charge when both king and crown prince are indisposed.
But the position did not guarantee Nayef would become king, after Abdullah refrained from appointing a deputy crown prince when he took power in 2005 in what was seen as a sleight aimed at Nayef — who for long denied Saudis were behind 9/11.
Nayef has expanded his influence beyond security to make public statements on economic issues and some government offices and websites carry his picture alongside Abdullah and Sultan.