Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is dead.
Crown Prince Nayef died in Geneva and his sudden death has sparked off controversy about his next successor.
He was described as a hardliner who led a crackdown on al-Qaeda.
Crown Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia interior minister since 1975 and thought to be 78, was the heir to Saudi King Abdullah and was appointed crown prince in October after the death of his elder brother, Crown Prince Sultan.
He is among the nearly 40 sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, Abdulaziz ibn Saud, who established the kingdom in 1935.
His death unexpectedly reopens the question of succession in the kingdom, a crucial US ally and source of much of the world’s oil, for the second time in less than a year. The 88-year-old King Abdullah has now outlived two designated successors, despite ailments of his own.
The crown prince, who will be buried in Mecca on Sunday, had a reputation as a steely conservative who opposed many of the king’s reforms and developed a formidable security infrastructure that crushed al-Qaeda, but also locked up some political activists.
Defence minister Prince Salman, 76, seen as likely to continue King Abdullah’s cautious reforms, has long been viewed as the next most senior prince in the kingdom’s succession. The new crown prince will be chosen by the Allegiance Council, an assembly of Abdul-Aziz’s sons and some of his grandchildren.
Crown Prince Nayef, who has 10 children from several wives, had been out of the country since late May, when he went on a trip that was described as a “personal vacation” that would include medical tests.
He travelled abroad frequently in recent years for tests but authorities never reported what ailments he may have been suffering from.
William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, said he was “very sad” to learn of the Crown Prince’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,” he said in a statement. “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the kingdom and its people at this sad time.”
The Crown Prince had a reputation for being a conservative; he was believed to be closer than many of his brothers to the powerful Wahhabi religious establishment that gives legitimacy to the royal family, and at times he worked to give a freer hand to the religious police who enforce strict social rules.
His elevation to crown prince in November 2011, after the death of his brother Sultan, had raised worries among liberals in the kingdom that, if he ever became king, he would halt or even roll back reforms that King Abdullah had enacted.
Soon after becoming crown prince, he vowed at a conference of clerics that Saudi Arabia would “never sway from and never compromise on” its adherence to the puritanical, ultraconservative Wahhabi doctrine. The ideology, he proclaimed “is the source of the kingdom’s pride, success and progress.”
Crown Prince Nayef had expressed reservations about some of the steps taken by ther king to bring more democracy to the country and increase women’s rights. He said he saw no need for elections in the kingdom or for women to sit on the Shura Council, an unelected advisory body to the king that is the closest thing to a parliament.
His top concern was security in the kingdom and maintaining a fierce bulwark against Shia powerhouse, Iran, according to US Embassy assesments.
“A firm authoritarian at heart,” was the description of Prince Nayef in a 2009 Embassy report on him, leaked by the whistleblower site Wikileaks.
The 9/11 attacks at first strained ties between the two allies. For months, the kingdom refused to acknowledge any of its citizens were involved in the suicide airline bombings, until finally Prince Nayef became the first Saudi official to publicly confirm that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, in a February 2002 interview.
But later that year he told an Arabic-language Kuwaiti daily that Jews were behind the attacks, because they had benefited from subsequent criticism of Islam and Arabs. He came under heavy criticism in the U.S., especially because he was the man in charge of Saudi investigations into the attack.
In mid-2003, however, Islamic militants struck inside the kingdom, targeting three residential expatriate compounds – the first of a string of assaults that later hit government buildings, the US consulate in Jeddah and the perimeter of the world’s largest oil processing facility in Abqaiq, al-Qaeda’s branch in the country announced its aim to overthrow the Saudi royal family.
The attacks galvanised the government into serious action against the militants, an effort spearheaded by Prince Nayef. Over the next years, dozens of attacks were foiled, hundreds of militants were rounded up and killed.
Report: The Telegraph
Sources: AP and Reuters agencies