SAUDI PRINCE DEAD, SALMAN LIKELY SUCCESSOR
Riyadh, June 16, 2012
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, next in line to rule the world's top oil exporter, died in Geneva, state television said on Saturday. Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is likely to be anointed heir to the throne.
Nayef, interior minister since 1975, was the heir to Saudi King Abdullah and was appointed crown prince in October after the death of his elder brother and predecessor in the role, Crown Prince Sultan.
Analysts and former diplomats said the succession process was likely to be stable, however, with the king and a family council expected to start work on the appointment of a new crown prince, 'who would probably be another brother of King Abdullah.'
'With deep sorrow and grief... King Abdullah mourns his brother... Crown Prince Nayef who passed to the mercy of God on Saturday outside the kingdom,' said a royal court statement carried by state media.
State TV said Nayef had died in Geneva where he had been receiving medical treatment for an unknown problem - he was thought to be 78.
State television said the burial would be in Makkah on Sunday. Bahrain has ordered a three-day mourning period, Bahrain News Agency said.
His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on Saturday mourned the sad demise of Saudi Crown Prince, Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
He ordered a three-day national mourning, starting from tomorrow June 17, during which flags will fly at half-mast in Bahrain and on embassies abroad.
In a statement issued today by the Royal Court, His Majesty paid a heartfelt posthumous tribute to Prince Nayef, hailing his lifetime achievements and dedication in serving his people and advocating Arab and Islamic causes.
He lauded the contribution of late Saudi Prince in bolstering relations with all Arab and Islamic countries and dedicating his life to serve his people, nation, Islam and humanity, praying Allah Almighty to rest his soul in eternal peace.
“Bahrain stands united with Saudi Arabia in this time of sorrow and grief, acknowledging the marks left by the deceased in the renaissance of the Kingdom,” the statement said.
The statement went on to say that Bahrain, represented by its King, its government and its people extends condolences to the Custodian of the Two holy mosques King Abdulla bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, the Al-Saud Family, the Saudi Government and the people of Saudi Arabia on this time of sorrow praying Allah Almighty to rest his soul in eternal peace.
Nayef, interior minister since 1975, was appointed crown prince in October after the death of his elder brother and the previous heir Crown Prince Sultan.
In a statement, British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed his government's condolences, saying he was sad to hear of Nayef's death.
'He served the Kingdom for many years with great dignity and dedication and his contribution to the prosperity and security of the Kingdom will be long remembered,' said Hague.
Nayef had a reputation as a steely conservative who opposed King Abdullah's reforms and developed a formidable security infrastructure that crushed Al Qaeda but also locked up some political activists.
'He supervised the security affairs of the state for more than 30 years. He scored a lot of successes there. Especially in fighting al Qaeda,' said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst.
Defence Minister Prince Salman, 76, has long been viewed as the next most senior prince after the late Nayef. If he became king, analysts believe he would continue King Abdullah's cautious reforms.
Although the choice of a new crown prince must be confirmed by a family allegiance council, analysts said it would be highly surprising if Salman, now 76, was passed over.
'The most obvious candidate is Prince Salman,' said Saudi politics professor Khalid al-Dakhil. If appointed, he is likely to shoulder much of the burden of state immediately, given that King Abdullah is already 89.
An imposing figure, Salman controls one of the Arab world's largest media groups. A familiar figure to the kingdom's top ally - the US - he is someone with whom Washington would be comfortable doing business.
'It appeared to me he had a good handle on the delicate balancing act he had to do to move society forward while being respectful of its traditions and conservative ways,' said Robert Jordan who was US ambassador in Riyadh from 2001-03.
'He doesn't blindly accept everything the US says, but at the same time he understands the importance of the relationship, which goes beyond oil,' Jordan added.
After nearly 50 years as governor of Riyadh province, Prince Salman now controls the big-spending Defence Ministry.
The ministry has long used arms purchases to turn the Saudi armed forces into one of the best equipped in the Middle East and to bolster ties with allies such as the US, Britain and France.
Since being named defence minister last year, he has been to both Washington and London, meeting President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron. A family insider, Salman has been part of the inner circle of the al-Saud ruling family.
In a royal family that bases its right to rule on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Salman is reputed to be devout but relatively outward-looking.
'He's not extravagant, whether in his personal life or professionally,' said Khaled Almaeena, editor-in-chief of Saudi Gazette, who has known Salman personally for more than three decades.
'He's not a spendthrift and makes sure public money is spent well on projects. If you go to his office he's there every morning meeting people. He has a knack of remembering people and events... He has travelled abroad a lot and is very well read and is very well versed in dealing with the tribes.'
From 1962 until last year, Salman served as governor of Riyadh, a position that meant he has had more to do with foreign governments than many senior royals. That role saw him arbitrating disputes between quarreling members of the ruling family, putting him at the centre of the kingdom's most important power structure.
Salman was born in 1935 in Riyadh, then a mud brick oasis deep in the interior of a new kingdom that had not yet discovered oil, depending instead on revenue from pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, date farming and camel herding.
Yet one son, Prince Sultan bin Salman, became the first Arab astronaut, flying on the US space shuttle Discovery in 1985. Prince Sultan is now the kingdom's tourism minister while another son, Prince Abdulaziz, is the deputy oil minister.
In his five decades of administering Riyadh and its surroundings, Salman oversaw the development of the capital from a large desert town into a metropolis of 4.6 million people.
He was taught in the 'princes' school' set up in Ibn Saud's palace by the imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, signalling the importance that Ibn Saud attached to the centrality of pure Islamic belief in the kingdom he created. -Reuters