The Saudi Press Agency announced the widely-expected news that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has chosen Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Crown Prince and appointed him as Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior.
The death of Crown Prince Sultan comes during a time of great upheaval and stress in and around the country. With regional events in a state of flux, Saudi Arabia was looking to create a picture of stability, but the unfortunate passing away of the Crown Prince has put the spotlight on its long-term succession plans.
Still, Prince Nayef has been waiting in the wings for a long time and is perfectly capable of ensuring that the Kingdom continues its policies without missing a beat.
But at the back of everybody’s mind, not least the Saudi Royalty itself, is the health of the octogenarian king who recently had a third operation for his back.
Religare notes that Saudis will march forward with their aggressive foreign policy. “Saudi will continue to be increasingly independent as they project their influence across the region politically and ideologically. This is likely to be particularly apparent in more frequent adjustments in oil production by Saudi and its GCC allies outside the confines of OPEC.”
1 Al-Qaeda And Yemen
Finding a resolution in Yemen remains elusive for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state counterparts. Despite repeated attempts to persuade Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, the stubborn state leader has refused to call it a day.Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda is exploiting the unrest in the country, although many critics argue their role in Yemen is exaggerated.Regardless, the Saudis have been so worried about Yemen that even though they have resisted change elsewhere in the region, especially Bahrain, they are willing to find a peaceful way for Saleh to step down.A peaceful resolution for Yemen would be seen as a great coup for the new Crown Prince.2 Bahrain
While Saudi Arabia is looking for change in Yemen, it is looking to maintain the status quo in Bahrain. Leveraging its financial, diplomatic and military might in Manama, Saudi Arabia wants to ensure that King Hamad does not face resistance from its citizens.Success in Bahrain is crucial given that it would ensure a strong Gulf bloc and keep the inspirations of the restive Shiite population in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern provinces also under check.
3 Iranian Threat
As Interior Ministry Iran was never far from Prince Nayef’s mind. But new tensions in light of the Arab Spring and the revelation of a bizarre plot to assasinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by Iranian agents suggest an escalation of tension between the two hostile regional powerhouses.
Syria could be yet another venue for a proxy war with Iran, especially after Saudi King Abdullah recently admonished Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for brutalizing his own people.
Iran will continue to be foremost on the mind of the new Crown Prince.
4 Expanding the Gulf
While Saudi Arabia is looking to curb Iranian influence in the region, it is also looking to expand its own. Overtures to Morocco and Jordan to join the Gulf bloc is a great way to extend Saudi and GCC influence in the region.
While the economic impact on the Gulf is yet to be fully determined, even a loose political coalition would ensure the Saudis expanding their sphere of influence. There are also reports that Egypt could also join the economic bloc, which would make the economic bloc a force to be reckoned with.
5 Opec and oil markets
Saudi Arabia showed tremendous leadership by pumping out near-record oil as Libyan production dried up. The Kingdom once again emerged as the market stabiliser and kept oil prices shooting off excessively without flooding the market and hurting its domestic needs.
The country will need to continue stabilising markets and be seen as a responsible supplier that ensure global economic recovery is not hampered by excessively high oil prices.
The markets here can make the Crown Prince’s life easier, as forecasts show that as the global economy turns around, demand will rise exponentially. That means Saudi Arabia can continue to pumps near capacity, benefit from high oil prices and retain its position as an active market stabiliser.
There’s only one catch though: high oil prices also means an emboldened Iran.
6 U.S. Relations & Foreign Policy
Saudi-U.S. relations have survived many issues and it is likely that Prince Nayef, who famously said that the 9/11 could be the work of Zionists, will forge new a new era of co-operation with his American counterparts.
They certainly both need each other. With U.S. forces moving out of Iraq, the Americans will no doubt want to bolster their presence in the friendly Gulf states to keep Iran in check.
7 Social Programme
The $130-billion social programme initiated by the King will need to be implemented. Its development could see vast changes in the make up of the country’s economic structure and regulatory reform, such as the mortgage law. The New Crown Prince may have to be at odds with his own conservative base to open up the economy further for the private sector to flourish.
8 Domestic Reforms
The new Crown Prince is widely known as anti-reform although that could change if the
“He has a strong reputation as an ultra-conservative — close to religious and reactionary circles,” Gulf specialist Olivier Da Lage told AFP. “He is hostile to Shiites and follows an iron fist policy against any opposition. He also has a tough stance towards Iran,” he added. “But it is possible that once in power, he will show more openness.”
Eleanor Gillespie, director of Cross-border Information which publishes the fortnightly Gulf States Newsletter, told AFP that despite his tough reputation Prince Nayef could take a softer stance than expected if he came to power.
“The question is: is he conservative or does he have this reputation of a tough man because of his post as interior minister?”
“No one really knows if he would follow reforms when he becomes king. He may be more of a pragmatic man than people think. He could become like King Abdullah, people said the same thing about Abdullah when he was crown prince,” she said. ” [It] may prove hard for any successor to reverse king Abdullah’s legacy of gradual reform.”
9 Succession Plan
While the Saudi succession plan has been smooth, the Saudi succession line is less clear over the medium-term future.
After Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the most likely candidate for the throne is his brother Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Governor of Riyadh, and part of the Sudairi Seven, who is also 75 years old.
Sudairi Seven, of course, is the reference to a powerful clan of Saudi brothers that have wielded tremendous influece over the country especially after King Khalid placed them in strategic positions during his reign between 1975 to 1982. It started with King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 1995. Other Sudairi members include the late Crown Prince Sultan, the current Crown Prince Nayef, Prince Salman, Prince Abdul-Rahman, Prince Ahmad and Prince Turki II bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.
Here is a list of candidates and influencers in the complex network of Saudi family ties and alliances:
The governor of Riyadh since 1962, Salman and his family own a newspaper group including pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat and al-Eqtisadiah. Born in 1936, he underwent spine surgery in the United States in August 2010 and spent months outside the kingdom for recuperation. Another full brother of Sultan, he is said to physically resemble his father King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who founded the kingdom, more than any of his brothers, notes a Reuters report.
The youngest full brother of Sultan, he has been a deputy interior minister since 1975. Educated at university in California, he was tasked with introducing reforms in the Eastern Province in the early 1980s to improve the lot of the kingdom’s Shi’ite minority who had revolted over discrimination, according to a Reuters report.
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL
Born around 1945 and son of King Faisal, he served as Saudi intelligence chief and as ambassador in London and Washington before retiring in 2006. He is the brother of veteran foreign minister Saud al-Faisal.
PRINCE ABDUL-RAHMAN BIN ABDULA-AZIZ
Born in 1931, he is a senior member of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s Vice Minister of Defense & Aviation since 1978. He was the first of King Abdul-Aziz’s sons to study in the West. He replaced his full brother, Prince Turki, in 1978, as the Kingdom’s Vice Minister of Defense.
Turki II bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud
Reportedly resides in Cairo and holds no official position in the country.
Grandsons who appear to have the necessary support and experience to be considered candidates include:
Khalid Al-Faisal, (born 1940) Governor of Makkah Province
He is seen as one of the most liberal princes who has eased the religious police’s influence in the port city of Jeddah. He is owner of al-Watan newspaper, the country’s most liberal daily. A keen poet, his liberal leanings could disqualify him as far as the hardline Wahhabi clerics are concerned, according to Reuters.
Saud Al-Faisal,(born 1941) Foreign Minister
The influential foreign minister is seen as one of the longest serving foreign ministers in the world, having held on to his post since 1975. A Princeton graduate, he is the third son of King Faisal and a close ally of King Abdullah. Unlike other Al Saud’s, he interacts freely with the media and gives speeches. He reportedly has Parkinson’s disease and suffers from deteriorating health.
Turki Al-Faisal, (born 1945) former Director of General Intelligence
Khalid bin Sultan, (born 1949) Deputy Defense Minister
Son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, he led Arab forces during the 1991 war to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait. He is deputy defence minister and owner of the influential pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Hayat. He led Saudi forces in their war against Yemeni rebels who strayed into Saudi territory in 2009, says Reuters.
Muhammad bin Fahd, (born 1951) Governor of Eastern Province
Mutaib bin Abdullah, (born 1953) Commander of National Guard
The son of King Abdullah. In November 2010, his father handed him full control of the National Guard, an elite Bedouin corps that handles domestic security.
Muhammad bin Nayef, (born 1959) Deputy Interior Minister
The son of Interior Minister Prince Nayef, he heads Saudi Arabia’s anti-terror campaign and is a deputy minister of interior. Diplomats say he has won plaudits from Western intelligence agencies for his work combating an al Qaeda campaign to destabilise the kingdom from 2003 to 2006. He survived an assassination attempt in 2009 by a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant — an incident that drew him favourable attention in Saudi media, according to Reuters.
Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah, (born 1962) Deputy Foreign Minister
Sons of Abdul-Aziz who do not seem to have the necessary experience, support, lineage, health, or ambition but are nonetheless influential in the selection process.
Bandar bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1923)
Oldest living son of the late King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. Wields influence but has no formal role in the affairs of the country.
Musa’id bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1923)
Mishaal bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1926) Chairman of the Bay’ah Council
Appointed by King Abdullah as chairman of the allegiance council but his public profile is low, notes Reuters.
Mutaib bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1931) former Minister for Municipal & Rural Affairs
Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1931)
Father of the billionaire Prince Waleed, Talal led the reformist Free Princes Movement. In 1958, he proposed a constitution which established a constitutional monarchy and expanded civil rights. He called for an elected group of advisers. The royal family rejected his reform agenda. Due to his past record, son Prince Waleed is widely expected not to play any formal public role, but remain an influential entrepreneur.
Nawwaf bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1933)
Brother of Prince Talal and close ally of King Abdullah. He is a former Minister of Finance and also served as King Faisal’s Special Adviser for Gulf Affairs from 1968-1975. He is a former Director General of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah following Prince Turki’s resignation.
Badr bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1933) former Deputy Commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard
Hadhlul bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1940)
Sattam bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1941) Deputy Governor of Riyadh
Son of King Abdul-Aziz, he studied business administration from the University of San Diego in 1965.
Ahmed bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1941) Vice Minister of Interior, Sudairi Seven
Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1945) Director General of Saudi Intelligence
The head of Saudi intelligence, his public profile has risen in recent years. The youngest son of Ibn Saud, he organised a conference on combating Internet militancy in 2007. Diplomats say he is close to King Abdullah. Born in 1945, he is relatively young but is hindered in succession by his non-royal mother, notes Reuters.
Born in 1950, this son of the late Crown Prince was a famed ambassador to Washington between 1983 and 2005. He is Secretary General of the Saudi National Security Council but is thought to have fallen out of favour with Abdullah and other princes due to overzealous diplomatic efforts in recent years.