Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, America’s staunchest ally in the royal house, Minister of Defense and head of the Sudairi branch of princes, is dying of cancer at his villa in Geneva, Switzerland. This is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources.
Aged 83, Sultan contracted cancer many years ago. In late March, he moved to his palace in Rabat, Morocco, where Saturday, April 26, his condition took a turn for the worse. A special royal aircraft flew the Crown Prince to Geneva, Switzerland and handed him into the care of his regular Swiss doctors. There was nothing they could do at that point except place him in an induced coma to spare him pain.
Around his bed are 17 of his sons, the most senior of whom are: Prince Khaled, Deputy Defense Minister; Prince Fahd, Governor of Tabuk and commander of the military city of that name near the Jordanian border; Prince Bandar, National Security Adviser; Prince Salman, Bandar’s deputy for intelligence affairs; Prince Turki, Director General of the Information and Propaganda Ministry; and Prince Faisal, Director of Charitable Foundations.
The dying Crown Prince’s brother, the Interior Minister Prince Nayef, is standing by in Riyadh.
(On April 18, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 345 reported that, after US General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had seen the king, they met with Prince Nayef although he had arranged a trip to Tehran shortly after this to sign a mutual anti-terror defense pact with Iran.
The format of the two interviews raised two questions: 1. Has Prince Sultan’s health deteriorated so far that he was too ill to see the two Americans? 2. Did the second interview amount to informal, implicit American recognition that Prince Nayef had jumped over Crown Prince Sultan’s head to become the first in line to succeed Abdullah as king?)
It is now almost certain that Nayef, another Sudairi prince, will succeed Sultan. And he will not have too long to wait before he reaches the throne. King Abdullah, at 85, is praised by Western analysts for the wise reforms he has introduced but some of the younger princes do not agree; they say he no longer copes with the stresses and strains of his royal duties and most days he takes several hours off to rest.
One of his sons recently ran an article in the English Saudi side Arab News with tongue-in-cheek praise for the way Abdullah performed at his great age.
Saudi readers are not accustomed to seeing their monarch openly discussed in the media and many interpreted it as a piece of disloyal insolence.
Nayef’s accession as Crown Prince will upset the traditional equilibrium the royal family has maintained between the Sudairi and rival branches.
When Abdullah dies, Nayef will become king and a crown prince will have to be chosen from outside the Sudairi clan. The two leading candidates then would be the two sons of King Faisal, foreign minister Saud al Faisal or Turki al Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to Washington.
The first step to regulate the succession was taken by Abdullah last year when he appointed an Allegiance Council. This council has never issued any decisions regarding the next crown prince after Sultan. On the other hand, it would not be considered appropriate in Riyadh for such a decision to be announced before Sultan takes his last breath.