Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdulaziz addresses a meeting of ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 2, 2012. AFP
FAYEZ NURELDINE
Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdulaziz addresses a meeting of ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 2, 2012. AFP

Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, next in line to throne, dies

Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, were among those who sent messages of condolence yesterday to King Abdullah.

RIYADH // The heir to the Saudi throne who cemented his reputation by crushing Al Qaeda in the kingdom after the 9/11 attacks has died in Switzerland.

Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who was thought to be 78, had been receiving medical treatment in Geneva since May.

Interior minister since 1975, he was appointed crown prince in November after the death of his elder brother, Crown Prince Sultan. The burial will take place in Mecca today.

Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, were among those who sent messages of condolence yesterday to King Abdullah.

The crown prince’s death unexpectedly reopens the question of succession for the second time in less than a year. King Abdullah, 88, has now outlived two designated successors. A new crown prince will be chosen from among his brothers and half-brothers, all the sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, Abdulaziz.

The figure believed most likely to be the new heir is Prince Salman, the defence minister who for decades occupied the powerful post of governor of Riyadh. The crown prince will be chosen by the Allegiance Council, an assembly of Abdulaziz’s sons and some of his grandchildren.

Crown Prince Nayef had a reputation for being a hard-liner and a conservative. He was believed to be closer than many of his brothers to the powerful Wahhabi religious establishment, and he at times worked to give a more free hand to the religious police.

His elevation to crown prince had raised worries among liberals in the kingdom that, if he became king, he would halt or even roll back reforms that King Abdullah had enacted. He had expressed some reservations about some of the reforms, which made incremental steps to increase democracy and women’s rights.

Nayef said he saw no need for elections or for women to sit on the Shura Council, the advisory body to the king.

His main concern was security in the kingdom and maintaining a bulwark against Iran, according to US Embassy assessments. “A firm authoritarian at heart,” was the description in a 2009 embassy report.

The crown prince built up his power in the kingdom though his fierce crackdown on Al Qaeda and a broader campaign to prevent the growth of Islamist militancy among Saudis.

In mid-2003, Islamist militants struck inside the kingdom, targeting three residential expatriate compounds – the first of a string of assaults that later hit government buildings, the US consulate in Jeddah and the perimeter of the world’s largest oil processing facility in Abqaiq. Al Qaeda branch in the country announced its aim to overthrow Al Saud royal family.

The attacks galvanised the government into serious action against the militants, an effort spearheaded by Nayef. Over the next years, dozens of attacks were foiled and hundreds of militants were rounded up and killed.

By 2008, it was believed Al Qaeda’s branch in the country was largely broken. Militant leaders who survived or were not jailed largely fled to Yemen, where they joined Yemeni militants in reviving Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Nayef took a leading role in fighting the branch in Yemen as well. In 2009, militants tried to assassinate his son, Prince Mohammed, who is deputy interior minister and the commander of counterterrorism operations: a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant blew himself up in the same room as the prince but failed to kill him.

The anti-militant campaign boosted Nayef’s ties to the religious establishment, which he saw as a major tool in keeping stability and preventing the spread of violent jihadi theology. The Wahhabi ideology that is the official law in Saudi Arabia includes strict segregation of the sexes, capital punishment such as beheadings and enforced prayer time, and is also firmly opposed to Al Qaeda’s calls for holy war against leaders seen as infidels.

Nayef’s interior ministry allied with imams in a rehabilitation programme for detained militants, who went through intensive courses in “correct” Islam to sway them away from violence. The programme brought praise from the United States.

Nayef never clashed with King Abdullah over reforms or made attempts to stop them – such a step would be unthinkable in the tight-knit royal family, whose members work hard to keep differences under wraps and ultimately defer to the king. But Nayef was long seen as more favourable to the Wahhabi establishment. In 2009, he shut down a film festival in Jeddah, apparently because of worries about the possibility of gender mixing in cinemas and a general distaste toward film as immoral.

Nayef, a soft-spoken, stocky man of medium build, was born in 1933, the 23rd son of Abdulaziz, the family patriarch who founded the kingdom in 1932 and had dozens of sons. Nayef was one of the five surviving members of the Sudairi seven, sons of Abdulaziz from his wife Hussa bint Ahmad Sudairi who, for decades, have held influential posts. He was a half-brother of King Abdullah.

Before being appointed interior minister, he held the posts of Riyadh governor, deputy minister of interior and minister of state for internal affairs. He had 10 children.

* The Associated Press, with additional reporting by Wam

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National