Surprise in Riyadh: Saudi King Abdullah names Sudairi Prince Nayef second in line

Riyadh is in uproar over the Saudi King Abdullah’s snap decision to promote the interior minister Prince Nayef, 76, his half-brother from the rival Sudairi clan, to second deputy prime minister. This places him in direct line to the throne as the incumbent Crown Prince defense minister Prince Sultan lies on his deathbed. The official appointment took immediate effect.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly weekly has been reporting for months that Sultan was dying of colonic cancer. Last month, he was rushed from his palace in Morocco to the United States for emergency surgery when his condition deteriorated.
The king’s action in naming the Crown Prince’s successor while he is still alive is unheard of in Saudi Arabia’s royal history and attests to Abdullah’s decision at the age of 86 to keep the regime on an even keel and safe from shocks. Abdullah himself was de facto monarch for 9 years before the ailing King Fahd actually finally gave up the ghost in 2005.
While establishing himself as a modernizing reformer in the hidebound oil kingdom, Abdullah held back four years from slotting the conservative Sudairi Prince after Sultan in the line of succession.
He also hoped to break the pattern whereby the throne was handed around among the sons of the dynasty’s founder Ibn Saud and start introducing grandsons to the order of succession.
The king’s preferred candidate was foreign minister Saud al Faisal. This plan fell through when the prince developed Parkinson’s disease.
debkafile‘s Saudi experts report: Prince Nayef is the closest of any senior member of the royal house to the fundamentalist, radical religious elements of Saudi society. He used his connections as interior minister for negotiations with al Qaeda leaders and their associates in the Saudi clerical establishment. Nayef is expected to be the most conservative and radical of any Saudi monarch to date.
At the same time, while close to the most radical mullahs, his 34 years in charge of internal security proved him to be a staunch defender of the Saudi throne’s absolute rule in the kingdom. Before this post, Nayef served as governor or Riyadh and Medina provinces. His son Ahmad bin Nayef is his top adviser and considered the strongman of the Saudi security establishment.
It is too soon to predict how as king he will perceive the oil kingdom’s relations with the United States, its foremost ally today.
On the one hand, Nayef rarely travels overseas and is one of the few Saudi princes never to have visited Washington. On the other, the Obama administration, which is seeking to open doors for ending the Afghanistan conflict, may find his friendship with Islamic radical institutions and circles close to al Qaeda and Taliban useful.
For Israel, Nayef is bad news. Whereas Abdullah, the reformer, was more open to accepting the Jewish state, the new man will lean more towards stronger backing for Hamas and other extremist Palestinian elements.
The Saudi minister regards Iran as his kingdom’s deadly foe; he has had no qualms about subjugating the Shiite minority and is more ready to fight the expansion of Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf than the more accommodating King Abdullah.
A sign that Nayef had come into royal favor surfaced this week in the order Abdullah published
appointing his son Mashal bin Abdullah governor of Najran province. Appended to the royal signature were the words “Recommended by Prince Nayef.” This too was a break with Saudi practice, whereby a royal order has a single signature, that of the king.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that the southern province of Najran on the border with Yemen is the main battlefield between Saudi undercover and military forces and al Qaeda terrorists based in northern Yemen.

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