With the death of Nayef, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia the lucky hand that the House of Saud were dealt was wasted. Nayef is “the second Saudi crown prince to die in the last seven months”. Nayef, who was thought to be 77 or 78, died in Geneva was buried yesterday.
Nayef, who was also prime minister and minister of the interior was only appointed crown prince in October on the death of the previous heir apparent, Sultan. Reuters reports that “Among the mourners was the man most likely to be named as successor: Prince Salman, 76, who is seen as more likely to continue the 89-year-old King Abdullah’s cautious economic and social reforms than the conservative Nayef”. Indeed as has been noted here before Prince Salman is thought to be the only candidate for the post of heir apparent. Who will fill the now vacant post at the Interior Ministry will give a clue as to where the long term succession of the kingdom.
The Reuters article goes on to note that “Although most analysts believe it is highly likely Salman will be named as heir, King Abdullah may choose to activate the Allegiance Council, a body he set up in 2006 to supervise succession decisions after his death”, it goes on to mention that “While the Allegiance Council will not formally start to operate until after King Abdullah’s death, the monarch last year chose to put his nomination of Prince Nayef to the body before his choice was announced”. The article ends noting that “Grandsons with the experience and qualifications to rule include Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca province, who is 71, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy interior minister, who is 52″.
This problem has never really been addressed but will only be exacerbated if a younger generation is not promoted quickly. The problem of course is that there are so many candidates that the House of Saud will have to come an arrangement quickly or else the House could break apart, and in an extreme case, allow a power vacuum which could then be used for terrorists as a base. There are of course other problems not least of which is the economy that needs direction instead of drifting, in addition to a host of international problems such as Iran, Syria (in which the Saudi’s are heavily invested) as well as Yemen.
The New York Times notesthat King Abdullah “though ailing, remains at the helm, and the Sauds successfully bought at least temporary social peace last year when they rolled out a $130 billion public welfare program”. It goes on to mention that “Once Prince Salman is named crown prince, most Saudi analysts say that just two younger sons of King Abdulaziz are considered by the family to be monarch material — possessing the needed blend of shrewdness, government experience and rectitude. The roughly 10 other surviving sons are marred by ill health, a lack of ability, a whiff or worse of corruption, or a reputation for practices that violate the tenets of Islam, like drinking alcohol”. It adds that “One of the two possible future kings is Prince Ahmed, believed to be 71, the deputy interior minister since 1975 and the man expected to succeed his full brother Prince Nayef as the kingdom’s law enforcement czar. The other is Prince Muqrin, in his 60s and the head of intelligence, although many members of the royal family are sticklers for pure Saudi genealogy and his mother was reportedly a Yemeni. But it could get more complicated, and quickly”. The writer mentions that “ it is not clear if age or patrilineage will be the primary factor in deciding succession. One of those slightly older, experienced grandsons is Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the current governor of Mecca whose appointment as defense minister could be a sign that age might triumph”.
The House of Saud must act now for its own interests in naming Salman as Crown Prince and a young(er) man as second deputy prime minister, before the moderate reforms that King Abdullah himself dies and there is a real power vacuum.