Saudi Arabia's crown prince Nayef dies
Posted Saturday, June 16 2012 at 18:12
Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, a half brother of King Abdullah, died on Saturday, the royal court said, leaving the oil powerhouse with no apparent successor to the throne.
Prince Nayef, a long-serving interior minister, "died outside" Saudi Arabia having recently left the Gulf state for medical treatment, said a statement carried by state media, including Al-Ekhbariyah Television and SPA news agency.
His funeral would be held on Sunday after sunset prayers in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia, after his body is repatriated, it added.
The 79-year-old's death, just eight months after he replaced his late brother crown prince Sultan, raises the issue of succession because of the advanced age of the first line of apparent heirs, at a time of turmoil rocking the Arab world.
King Abdullah himself is 88 and ailing, and nobody is officially in line to replace Nayef.
However, his brother Prince Salman, 76, who took over the portfolio of defence minister after Sultan's death, appears to be a strong candidate.
The monarch established in 2006 the allegiance council, a body of 30-odd senior princes, as a new succession mechanism aimed in the long term to choose the crown prince.
"No doubt, the new crown prince will be appointed by the allegiance council," said Anwar Eshqi, head of the Jeddah-based Middle East Centre for Strategic Studies.
"All expectations point to Prince Salman to succeed Prince Nayef for his experience in administration, security and politics," he said.
But the new commission had not been activated when Nayef was chosen as crown prince, according to political scientist Khaled al-Dakheel, who argued that naming his successor is a chance to put the new body to use.
"Prince Nayef was named under the old system, without activating the allegiance council system," he said, pointing to the royal decree that established the council and postponed its use until after Abdullah's death.
"This is a chance to activate the allegiance council system... which provides a legal foundation for a peaceful power transfer within the family and leaves no room for surprises. This is important for state stability," Dakheel said.
Nayef, who spearheaded Saudi Arabia's clampdown on Al-Qaeda following a wave of attacks in the conservative kingdom between 2003 and 2006, became heir to the throne in October last year.
He was the middle prince of the Sudairi Seven, the formidable bloc of sons of King Abdul Aziz by a favourite wife, Princess Hassa al-Sudairi.
Prince Nayef travelled abroad several times this year for medical reasons, including to Algeria, the United States and Switzerland, where he was shown on television in Geneva three days ago greeting supporters.
The nature of his illness has not been made public.
Less than two weeks ago, his brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying in a Saudi daily that the crown prince was in "good health" and would "soon" return to the kingdom.
On May 26, SPA reported that Prince Nayef had left the country for medical tests abroad for the second time in less than three months, without naming his destination.