Saudi members of the royal family carry the body of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Azziz, wrapped in an ochre-coloured shroud, during his funeral on June 17, 2012 at Al-Adl cemetery in the holy city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia, where several Saudi royals and prominent Islamic scholars are interred. The Arab desert kingdom buried the 79-year-old royal, who died of cardiac failure in Geneva the previous day, in a sombre ceremony in Islam`s holiest city, as defence minister Prince Salman appeared poised to become the new heir apparent. GETTY
Report by Ahmad al-Masri in London: “Expectations That Salman Will Be Appointed Crown Prince and Observers Do Not Rule Out Surprises. Saudi ArabiaLays to Rest its `Strong Man` and Battle To Choose a Successor Begins”
Mecca, agencies – Saudi King Abdallah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz led the prayers of the worshippers yesterday, Sunday, at the Holy Mosque in Mecca at the funeral of Crown Prince Nayif Bin-Abd-al-Aziz who died in Geneva on Saturday. The Saudi king appeared sitting in a chair during the prayers over Prince Nayif`s body. (Passage omitted on the funeral)
King Abdallah is scheduled to invite the Allegiance Commission that is chaired by Prince Mish`al Bin-Abd-al-Aziz to meet and choose a new crown prince in succession to Prince Nayif who became the crown prince in November 2011 following the death of his brother Prince Sultan Bin-Abd-al-Aziz in the United States where he was being treated.
A general impression prevails in Saudi Arabia that the present Defense Minister Prince Salman (76 years old), one of the sons of the kingdom`s founder King Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Abd-al-Rahman Al Sa`ud, is the candidate with the best chance of becoming the crown prince.
Prince Nayif succeeded his brother Prince Sultan who died when he was 86 years old at the end of November 2011 in a New York hospital. He was one of the “seven brothers” sired by the founder from his wife Princess Hassah al-Sudayri. The late King Fahd and Prince Sultan and present Defense Minister Prince Salman are the most prominent ones.
The Saudi crown prince`s death reopens the door to the power struggle inside the ruling family in the kingdom which is considered the most important oil source in the world. Saudi King Abdallah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz established the Allegiance Commission in 2007 and it is made up of 35 sons and grandsons of late King Abd-al-Aziz and chaired by the oldest among them after the king and crown prince, which is Prince Mish`al Bin-Abd-al-Aziz. It has the task of choosing the crown prince. But it is yet not known whether the Saudi king would activate the commission or not, particularly as he appointed late Prince Nayif crown prince without referring to it.
Observers believe the disagreements will be over choosing the crown prince in addition to choosing the interior minister and second deputy prime minister who deputizes for the king and crown prince during their absence. These are the three vital posts in the kingdom. Sources inside the ruling family have told Al-Quds al-Arabi that Prince Salman Bin-Abd-al-Aziz (a Sudayri and current defense minister) is the closest to the crown prince post yet they added that the Saudi king wants to choose a young prince. Observers of Saudi affairs say the talk inside the ruling family`s circles is about choosing Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmad Bin-Abd-al-Aziz (a Sudayri and second youngest son of late King Abd-al-Aziz after Prince Miqrin, the intelligence director) as the crown prince while appointing Prince Muhammad Bin-Nayif, the assistant deputy interior minister and late Prince Nayif`s son, to replace his father as the interior minister. But this arrangement will anger many sons of the founder king and their sons who are aspiring to occupy a sovereign post as soon as it becomes vacant by death or dismissal.
Observers say many appointments and changes will take place among the princes if Prince Salam is appointed crown prince, primarily the appointment of Prince Ahmad Bin-Abd-al-Aziz minister of the interior and the king`s second deputy and the appointment of Prince Muhammad, Prince Nayif`s son, deputy interior minister while keeping the security dossier because he was in charge of it when his father was in the ministry.
It is recalled that reports said former late Crown Prince Sultan was pushing before his death for the appointment of Prince Salman as second deputy and preferred to have him in this post rather than late Prince Nayif. (Passage omitted on late Prince Nayif appointment the second deputy prime minister in 2009)
(Description of Source: London Al-Quds al-Arabi Online in Arabic — Website of London-based independent Arab nationalist daily with strong anti-US bias. URL: http://www.alquds.co.uk/)
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Saudi Succession and the Illusion of Stability
By Karen Elliott House
Wall Street Journal
The death and burial this weekend of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the second Saudi crown prince to die in less than a year, demonstrates the inherent instability of the absolute monarchy still being ruled by the geriatric sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah, who has outlived both of his presumed successors, is himself 89 and in failing health. So the looming question is will the ruling Al Saud family pass the crown to yet another geriatric brother of the king? Or will he seize this occasion to jump to a new generation of royals who might be presumed to have more vitality and vision to revitalize the moribund kingdom on which the world depends for so much of its oil? A formula to select a new crown prince exists in which some three dozen sons and grandsons of the founder would vote secretly to choose the new crown prince. This commission has a majority of grandsons who could vote for one of their generation.
Given the royal family`s reverence for age, however, almost surely the next crown prince with be Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, 76, a full brother of the two late crown princes. While change sweeps much of the rest of the Middle East, the Saudi monarchy continues to cling to the status quo.
In the near term, the change from one elderly brother to another will not affect U.S. Saudi relations. For better or worse, the U.S. is wedded to the Al Saud family, not to a particular prince. But we should not confuse stagnation with stability. The fact that the royals continue to rule when autocratic regimes have been swept aside in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and perhaps soon inSyria, doesn`t mean this U.S. ally is stable.
The kingdom faces multiple problems: Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-olds, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, the kingdom`s one-dimensional economy earns nearly 80% of its revenues from oil, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Moreover, the senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country`s population is below 20 years of age.
Beyond all this, the tension level in Saudi society is rising precipitously as the royals vacillate between seeking to satisfy modernizers` demands for more change and seeking to placate conservatives for whom the only acceptable change is a return to the religious purity of the Prophet Muhammad, which many feel the royal family has abandoned. Saudi Islam increasingly is divided within itself, as is the royal family.
Prince Salman, the kingdom`s defense minister since last November (after nearly half a century as governor of Riyadh), is more energetic and less rigid than the late Prince Nayef, but unlikely to initiate significant reforms. Nayef`s death will please those Saudis who want at least a continuation of King Abdullah`s modest reforms, including trying to curb religious control over education and providing Saudi women scholarships to study abroad, albeit accompanied by a male relative. These Saudis feared Nayef as king would roll back even such small gains to curry favor with the fundamentalist religious establishment.
But Prince Salman is no democrat. In an interview with me in his Riyadh office two years ago, he took pains to explain why democracy couldn`t work inSaudi Arabia. “If Saudi Arabia adopts democracy every tribe will be a party,” he said, adding that the country would be chaotic. Instead, he said, the Kingdom has shura, or consultation. “Government asks a collection of people to consult and when there is no consensus, the leader decides,” he said candidly summing up Al Saud autocracy.
The problem is that a growing number of Saudis are no longer content to obey authority. Saudi Arabia boasts 10 million Internet users, up from only 500,000 a decade ago, and it is second only to much-larger Egypt in Facebook users. Young Saudis know what is happening in the rest of the world and are frustrated at what they see as the lack of freedom and opportunity in their own country. This frustration is producing growing signs of sedition despite government deterrence by punishing those who step out of line.
Recently, a young Saudi woman confronted by the country`s religious police in a Riyadh mall for wearing nail polish told them her nails were not their business. She filmed her confrontation with authorities and posted it on YouTube. Last month, Manal al-Sharif, jailed a year ago for driving her car and posting a video of that forbidden act on YouTube, doubled down on her defiance by going to Oslo to speak at a freedom forum even though her employer warned she would be fired. A young Saudi male dared to film and post on YouTube the grueling poverty in Riyadh, concluding by interviewing a local imam who said young girls in the neighborhood are being sold into prostitution. The film went viral with some 800,000 Saudis viewing it before its youthful maker was arrested.
Clearly, a growing number of frustrated Saudis no longer either respect or fear their leaders. Saudis are not demanding democracy; only transparent, efficient, honest government. They want a leader who can make the sclerotic system function better. Yet, much like the Soviet Union in its final years when power passed from one old man to another — Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko — in quick succession, the Saudi royal family continues to pass the crown from one aged son of the founder to the next.
Recall, the Soviet Union was widely assumed to be stable. In the end, it proved brittle. Saudi succession looks very much like a movie we`ve seen before.
Karen Elliott House, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for Mideast coverage. She is author of “On Saudi Arabia,” to be published in September by Knopf.