Prince Nayef, likely to become heir to Saudi king
DUBAI | Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:54am EDT
(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's powerful interior minister, Prince Nayef, now
likely to become heir to the throne after the death of Crown Prince Sultan,
has led a crackdown on al Qaeda militants trying to drive out Westerners and
overthrow the ruling al Saud family.
This has made Nayef, who is about 77 and 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, 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.
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 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, Nayef might move toward the center ground of a
political system that prizes consensus, allowing the slow process of
economic and social reforms initiated by King Abdullah to continue.
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
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.
Nayef's three decades as interior minister have allowed him to extend his
authority across government into foreign policy, religious affairs and the
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 <http://www.reuters.com/places/yemen
> 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 austere standards, 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 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. Nayef said it was too soon for women to take part -- and
the debate was over.
Analysts say 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.
Nayef raised eyebrows in the West after the September 11, 2001 attacks in
the United States when he expressed doubt that Saudis were among the
hijackers and denied that militants loyal to Osama bin Laden were present in
But he launched an increasingly successful security campaign in response to
a wave of attacks on Westerners and Saudi security forces that began in May
2003 and has vowed to beat the militants, however long it takes.
"I cannot say that operations have ended," Nayef said in April after
security forces killed 15 suspects in the bloodiest shootout with militants
so far. "But they have been weakened and we will continue to fight them."
Militants have also turned their fire directly on Nayef.
The Saudi wing of al Qaeda said a suicide bombing at the interior ministry
in December, which caused some damage to the building but killed only the
bomber, was aimed at the minister and his son Prince Mohammad who also
(Editing by Sami Aboudi and Tim Pearce)
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Received on Sat Oct 22 2011 - 06:18:42 EDT