Royal Grandson Mohammed bin Nayef: A King in Waiting

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A file picture taken on April 30, 2014 shows Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef attending the consultative meeting of interior ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in Kuwait city. AFP/Yasser al-Zayyat

Published Monday, January 26, 2015

It did not take long for new Saudi King Salman to declare the name of the deputy crown prince: Mohammed bin Nayef, the first grandson of the founder King Abdulaziz to assume the post. Nayef will carry the banner of the House of Saud in ruling Saudi Arabia in the future.

According to a report by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the royal decree appointing Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who kept his post as interior minister, stated: “After examining what was presented to the members of the Allegiance Council regarding the appointment of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, as Deputy Crown Prince, which received the support of the majority, and based on what the public interest requires, we have chosen His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, as Deputy Crown Prince and appointed him as second deputy prime minister and interior minister.”

The post of Deputy Crown Prince was created by King Abdullah on March 27, 2014. Abdullah appointed his half-brother Prince Muqrin to the post, provided that he is selected as crown prince in the event the crown prince dies and is chosen as king in the event both the posts of king and crown prince become vacant simultaneously.

Muqrin’s appointment abolished the previous mechanisms established by the Allegiance Council to appoint the crown prince. Article 7 of the statute of the Allegiance Council states that: “The king, after he is given allegiance, and after consulting with the members of the council, chooses one, two, or three candidates for the post of crown prince and presents them to the council. The council must then work to choose one of the candidates by consensus to name him as crown prince. In the event the council does not choose any of the candidates, it must name a candidate for the post of crown prince.”

The new king, Salman, kept his late brother Abdullah’s system in place. Abdullah had given his successor the choice to maintain or not maintain the royal decree appointing a deputy crown prince. At the time, the royal decree states that the “king — in the future — should he choose to appoint a deputy crown prince must present his candidates to the members of the Allegiance Council before issuing a royal decree choosing one after the approval of a majority of the Allegiance Council members.”

With the appointment of Mohammed bin Nayef, the royal family would have practically settled the issue of transition all the way to the second generation.

Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz was born on August 30, 1959. He is one of the sons of the late Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz from his wife, Princess Jawhara bint Abdulaziz bin Musaid bin Jalawi al-Saud.

According to his official biography, he obtained a degree in political science from a US university in 1981. He worked in the private sector until he was appointed as deputy interior minister for security affairs by royal decree in 1999. He was appointed a year later as deputy interior minister for security affairs at the rank of minister by royal decree, and at the same time, then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz appointed him as a member of the Higher Media Council. He remained in office for four years.

The late king Abdullah appointed him as interior minister on November 5, 2012, succeeding Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Mohammed bin Nayef took it upon himself as part of his security remit to confront radical groups in Saudi led by al-Qaeda. He largely succeeded in weakening al-Qaeda, the group predominantly responsible for numerous bloody attacks in the country between 2003 and 2006. Mohammed bin Nayef also oversees security coordination with the United States.

Sources believe that Mohammed bin Nayef’s appointment as deputy crown prince means that the next king will give security matters an absolute priority, especially in light of the security threats facing Saudi Arabia, notably led by ISIS on the border with Iraq, and in light of Saudi Arabia's participation in the international anti-ISIS coalition. The sources say that this would reassure external partners, especially the United States.

Mohammed bin Nayef is also considered an “important” friend of Washington and its trusted go-to man among the founder king’s descendants.

Mohammed bin Nayef survived an assassination attempt on August 27, 2009 when a militant approached him pretending to be turning himself in, before he blew himself up using a bomb hidden in his clothes. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

A Western diplomat told The Washington Post following the attempt that if if the attack had succeeded, it would have been the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia’s campaign against terrorism. According to the Saudi Ministry of Interior, Mohammed bin Nayef suffered several assassination attempts, including one at his office and another during a visit to Yemen.

Years ago, The Washington Post described Mohammed bin Nayef as the official who is leading the world’s largest counter-terrorist campaign, in a report published in 2003 on terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.

A US embassy cable dating back to March 2009, published by WikiLeaks, had described Prince Mohammed as the de facto interior minister. The cable said Mohammed bin Nayef enjoys high prestige with Saudi King Abdullah and that he is highly respected among ordinary Saudis.

Regardless of his personal views, Mohammed bin Nayef followed in the footsteps of his father in maintaining close relations with the religious conservatives in Saudi society. They are the group usually viewed in Saudi political circles as the biggest possible threat to the government.

The religious conservatives were behind two uprisings in 1927 and 1979, and had backed the Islamic Awakening movement in the 1990s. The new Deputy Crown Prince, on more than one occasion, expressed his hardline religious views. In previous statements, Mohammed bin Nayef said that Riyadh’s positions on the region are based on an “Islamic creed that is pure from any partisanship.” A friend of Mohammed bin Nayef once claimed that his office still hires ultra conservative religious figures.

Mujtahid wrote many times on Twitter about Mohammed bin Nayyef. Mujtahid tweeted, “There is no one who hangs the bell in the family other than Mohammed bin Nayef,” clarifying that “Mohammed bin Nayef is a careful person that only moves according to calculated steps.”

Since coming to the Interior Ministry two years ago, the government’s tight grip on dissent has rarely been relaxed. A number of activists were arrested and jailed for accusations that include talking to foreign media during the unrest in Qatif that followed the eruption of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.

Overall, Mohammed bin Nayef’s vision remains unclear. Saudi diplomats, analysts, and academics are unsure about his positions on major long-term issues, including the need to reconcile issues social changes, the young generation, traditions, and the oil-based economy of the kingdom.

In a ruling family in which major policies are decided by consensus, the views of Prince Mohammed could influence foreign policy as well. Leaked WikiLeaks cables show that Mohammed bin Nayef has strict views on Iran, and would routinely consult US officials regarding the best ways to protect infrastructure in the event of war with Iran.

However, his focus on the emergence of a new wave of militants in the Saudi interior has been an important factor in Saudi policy toward Syria, including the move by the government to provide more aid to the opposition while discouraging private citizens from donating or traveling to fight in the Levant.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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