Saturday, June 16, 2012

As crown prince Nayef dies, Saudis move deep into the succession crisis

Below see a critical and insightful excerpt about Nayef's legacy from the NYTimes' otherwise very politely-written story. The succession crisis has been looming over the Saudis' heads for many years now. But it became more pressing when Nayef's brother, crown prince Sultan, died about eight months ago (October 22, 2011). Now Nayef has died. Prince Salman who is speculated to become the new successor is 77 and has health problems. And, the "reigning monarch, King Abdullah, is 88."

As this story indicates, "Royal succession has passed down through the roughly 35 sons of king Abdul Aziz. But with the founder’s youngest sons now in their 60s, Prince Nayef’s death again raised the question of how the monarchy would move into the third generation of princes." Not to forget the competition - potentially bloody competition - among these sons and their sons, and also the rivalry between the Sudeiris and non-Sudeiris among king Abdul Aziz's sons (and their respective sons). Sudeiris were "all born to Hassa al-Sudeiri, a favorite wife of King Abdul Aziz al-Saud." Prince Salman belongs to the Sudeiris and was promoted to the key position of minister of defense in 2011 after the death of prince Sultan.

Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Crown Prince Who Led Crackdown on Al Qaeda, Dies
By Neil MacFarquhar, NYTimes, June 16, 2012


"“He was the last of the really strong members of the Sudeiri group,” said Abdulaziz Algasim, a lawyer and activist. “There is no other such traditional, strong member. I think the royal family will move toward more of a partnership with the public.”

The prince’s death topped the trending topics on Twitter, as social media in the Middle East lit up with tributes and condolences. But there was a significant undertow of criticism, with sardonic jokes, like one about whom the government of Bahrain would now turn to for advice on repressing its Shiite Muslim majority.

Or as Issandr el-Emrani, a political commentator in Egypt who calls himself the Arabist on his Twitter page, said in a post, “At least that’s one blow to the counterrevolution this week.”

At an infamous meeting in February 2011, with the region erupting and the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia toppling, Prince Nayef summoned the leading Saudi editors and columnists to a Riyadh dinner.

In an extended tirade, he dismissed the Tunisians as basically French and the Cairenes as louche urbanites, while arguing that the Saudis remained bedrock Arabs who held their traditional political system in high esteem, according to several accounts.

A question about the improving prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamist group, set off a diatribe against both the treachery of the Brotherhood and the journalist who asked the question, with the prince labeling the journalist a terrorist sympathizer. The dinner went on until 4 a.m. with the prince raging about the many plots seeking to undermine the House of Saud, according to those accounts.

It was considered a classic Prince Nayef moment. While open to holding long talks with the news media and others, he was so completely assured of his own point of view and of the need to confront even the smallest real or imagined threat to the rule of the Sauds — with notable animosity toward Iran, Shiite Muslims and Islamist extremists — that he could come across as entirely unreasonable at times.

But many analysts dismissed as overly simplistic the idea that he was only the champion of conservatives in Islam’s birthplace.

Prince Nayef “is widely seen as a hard-line conservative who at best is lukewarm to King Abdullah’s reform initiatives,” said an October 2009 diplomatic cable that was leaked via WikiLeaks. “However, it would be more accurate to describe him as a conservative pragmatist convinced that security and stability are imperative to preserve Al Saud rule and ensure prosperity for Saudi citizens.”

The cable described his multifaceted personality as “elusive, ambiguous, pragmatic, unimaginative, shrewd and outspoken.” He also displayed certain touches of vanity, like dyeing his mustache black."    

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