Prince Nayef dead
It finally happened. Prince Nayef actually died. On June 2— only weeks ago — the deputy Minister of Interior issued a public statement in which he assured the public that the Prince is in “good health”. Usually, such statements only confirm public rumors about the health of this or that prince. Such are the methods of transparency in the bizarre kingdom. The King may follow his brother soon especially that he has been hospitalized repeatedly in the last few years and has minimized his public appearances.
The death of Prince Nayef opens yet again the window to speculate on the succession struggle in Saudi Arabia. His death may have been a respite for the House of Saud. The most hated Saudi prince, by far, is now denied the opportunity to serve as king. His assumption to the throne would have led to social and political instability given his unpopularity.
It is almost certain that King Abdullah will appoint Prince Salman as his crown prince, but there is speculation inside the kingdom that Abdullah may surprise all by designating a member of the second generation as his successor—possibly his son. But that would be very risky as it would create a whole alliance within the family against them.
Abdullah’s selection of Nayef was a surprise in itself. It was seen as an underhanded compliment to the Sudairi faction within the family given the standing of Nayef among the public.
The succession struggle is afoot but we don’t know much about the inner workings of the royal family. The King has set up an “acclamation committee” but it is not clear whether it has any role beyond what the ruling King decides. Thus, Abdullah will pretty much be able to decide on his successor.
The fact that he does not belong to any faction within the royal family—he only has half-brothers—may free his hand. The Sudairis are looking to cement their control of the kingdom since the assassination of King Faisal, but they are now at the mercy of the whims and interests of Abdullah.
The US is likely to push for Mohammad Bin Nayef to assume the Ministry of Interior. Unlike his father, he works well with the Americans and does not have the baggage of Nayef—but who does? Similarly, the US favors Prince Salman who has been acting like a future king for years, or at least this was the impression of a former US ambassador in Saudi Arabia who shared with me his impressions.
Salman’s faction is close to the US government. His media, Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat for example, are the most right-wing and the most pro-Israeli of all the media of Saudi princes.
The jockeying for power is now more intense than ever particularly because Abdullah and Salman are both advanced in age. The future course of the Saudi royal family will be decided in the next set of appointments.
Some in the Western press are speculating that the second generation in the House of Saud will finally take over, but the conservative family is a slave of traditions and tribal customs. They may have to wait for the expiration of every son of Abdul-Aziz before they allow the second generation princes to rise to the royal position.
If Saud al-Faisal, the current foreign minister, was not debilitated with illness, he would be assumed to be a shoe-in, especially that he is on good terms with the various factions within the Kingdom.
Western media favor Prince Bandar because he was able to dazzle them all with his corruption and extravagance during his Washington, DC years. But that is far-fetched because the current king rendered him a rare public slap on the face a few years ago when he committed an unforgivable sin in a “documentary” on Al-Arabiyya TV: he overshadowed the king himself.
You can catch a glimpse of the conflict in the royal family when you watch the coverage of the death of the Crown Prince. The coverage is low-key in comparison with the coverage of the funeral of Crown Prince Sultan, for example. Sons of Nayef may now realize that not having their own media, like other princes, is a big disadvantage.
The show will go on. Foreign dignitaries will arrive from around the world and pay their respect to the leaders of one of the most repressive states in the world. Western leaders who preach about human rights and democracy in Syria, will prostrate themselves before the princes of oil and gas. The Obama administration which is supposedly leading or “inspiring” the “Arab spring”—at least according to the comedy routine of Thomas Friedman—may be stricken with grief. Saudi Arabia, after all, is the model government that the US seeks to spread around the region.
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