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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
At stake is the personal legacy of leading figures of the Saudi family since the 1970s.
Nayef is seen as a hawk who is lukewarm about the social and economic reforms the king has promoted, including attempts to reduce the influence of the hardline clerical establishment in a country that imposes strict Islamic sharia law.
After promoting his son, the king on Sunday extended some key backers of his reform policies in their positions, including top official cleric Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh and the Saudi ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir.
Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based defence and security analyst, said elements of foreign policy were also at stake if Nayef ever became king.
“My assumption is that Nayef is more hawkish on Iran so there could be changes in foreign policy,” Karasik said.
Washington-based analyst Simon Henderson said Sultan’s return not only showed he still had ambitions to be king but that he wanted to bolster the position of his own family following Abdullah’s promotion of Mitab.
Sultan’s son Khaled is his deputy defence minister and Nayef’s son Mohammed is deputy interior minister.
“Sultan probably feels some pressure to come back home,” he said, adding Sultan’s chairing of the weekly cabinet meeting on Monday could signal his determination to remain at the helm.
It is not clear to what degree Sultan will be able to take control of affairs in the king’s absence. Officials say he has been working normally but diplomats say he has been much less active in public since treatment for what they was cancer.
Abdullah was de facto ruler for years after King Fahd was incapacitated by a stroke. “This is not the first time there is this type of movement taking place,” said Saudi politics professor Khaled al-Dakhil.
(By Andrew Hammond. Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)