x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Crown Prince Nayef laid to rest

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed offers condolences to king.

RIYADH // King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia led mourners who prayed yesterday for his brother, Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, in Mecca before his interment in Al Adl cemetery.

Earlier Prince Nayef's wrapped body was carried through crowds of relatives in a ceremony broadcast live on television.

Saudi TV showed the ambulance carrying Prince Nayef's body arriving at the Great Mosque, Islam's holiest place, with the body, wrapped in a brown shroud, carried inside by his sons and other close family members.

The mosque was lined with members of the Saudi royal family and leaders of Arab states as an imam led the sunset prayer next to the body of Prince Nayef, who died on Saturday.

King Abdullah, Saudi princes, heads of state, representatives of Arab and Islamic countries and a large congregation prayed to Allah to bestow mercy on the soul of the late prince.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was among the mourners. Later Sheikh Mohammed offered condolences to King Abdullah on behalf of the President, Sheikh Khalifa, and the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

Also among the mourners was the man most likely to be named as successor: Prince Salman, 76, who is seen as more likely to continue King Abdullah's cautious economic and social reforms than the conservative Prince Nayef.

Saudi Arabia is also struggling with entrenched youth unemployment and wary of the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, which has plotted attacks against the kingdom and sworn to topple the royal family.

The appointment of a new crown prince is not likely to change the kingdom's policies in the short term but might influence the course of reforms started by King Abdullah.

"We call on God to help King Abdullah choose the right person who can bear the burdens of this position at this difficult time we face, both at the level of the Arab nation and that of the Islamic community," Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah bin Turki Al Saud said.

Salman, who is seen as a pragmatist with a strong grasp of the intricate balance of competing princely and clerical interests that dominate Saudi politics, was named defence minister last year.

Although most analysts believe it is highly likely Prince Salman will be named as heir, King Abdullah may choose to activate the Allegiance Council, a body he set up in 2006 to supervise succession decisions after his death.

The Saudi succession has moved along a line of brothers born to the state's founder, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. The previous crown prince, Sultan, died last October.

While the Allegiance Council will not formally start to operate until after King Abdullah's death, the monarch last year chose to put his nomination of Prince Nayef to the body before his choice was announced.

"There will be a meeting where the next crown prince will be decided. It has always been done in an orderly and organised manner. Prince Salman fits the profile in many ways," said Khaled Almaeena, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette.

* Reuters, with additional reporting by Wam