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Mordechai Kedar: What’s Next for Saudi Arabia?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
Photo Credit: Omar Rashidi/Flash90

Approximately one week ago, the Saudi crown prince, Prince Naif Bin Abd Al-Aziz died at age 78, apparently from complications of diabetes. The official media of the kingdom assumed an air of mourning and spoke of the death of the prince as a “loss to the homeland.” For many years Prince Naïf has been a cornerstone of the of the Saudi family regime, because he fulfilled a number of key roles: minister of the interior (36 years), deputy to the prime minister (3 years), and crown prince (less than one year). In his various roles he actively supervised matters of internal security, pilgrimage, religion and overseeing the media. His political importance mainly stemmed from having taken a hard line against the regime’s domestic opposition, from the liberals to al-Qaeda, from the feminists to the Shi’ites. He was worthy of the titles “Strongman” and “Support of the Regime” that he was given.

About one year ago the kingdom lost the previous crown prince, Naif’s brother Sultan, who was 86 years old. One brother, King Abdullah, is 89 years old, but there are those who think that he is in his 92nd year, and his health is unstable: during the funeral prayer for Naif, in Mecca, the king sat on a chair instead of standing, as is customary, because of the burden of his years, the effects of disease, the stress of the kingship and the death of his younger brother, which factors, combined, made it difficult for him to stand. Some friends came to the funeral to support him: the Amir of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, head of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian military, Field marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, the present prime minister of Lebanon – Najib Mikati, and the previous one – Saad al-Hariri as well as other heads of Arab and Islamic states. Those who get fat checks from him often…

An important detail of the funeral of Naif is the fact that he was buried in Mecca, in spite of the fact that the family is not originally from Mecca, which is in the Hijaz, but from Riyadh, in the Najad area. Naif is the third of the sons of the founder of the kingdom Abd Al-Aziz ibn Saud, to be buried in Mecca; Mansur, who was minister of defense and Majid who was governor of the Mecca region. Some of Abd al-Aziz’s grandchildren are already buried in Mecca (they were not so young either). It is worth noting that the sons of Najid who are buried in Mecca are buried in a cemetery specifically designated for them, which is called “Maqbarat al-adal”, Cemetery of the Just, meaning godly justice. Tribalism – it seems – exists even in death… Their devotion to Mecca stems from their desire to show their reverence for the Islamic holy places, reflecting the nickname of the king as “The Servant of the Two Holy Places” – Mecca and Medina.

The Dirty Business of the King’s Replacement

“Hayat al-Bi’a” – the Council of the Declaration of Faith – was established a number of years ago, and its senior members are princes from the generation of the sons and grandsons of the founder of the kingdom, for whom the kingdom is named. The role of the council is to deal with the senior appointments of the state, to assure that only the candidates who are the most talented and most acceptable to all will reach the head of the pyramid of power in the kingdom. Prince Mashal, the king’s brother, heads the council, which is supposed to meet in the near future, in order to choose a new crown prince. Prince Salman, who is 76 years old and minister of defense, is the apparent choice, or it may be the 71-year-old Prince Hamad, who officiates in the role of deputy minister of interior. The struggle among the sons of Abd al-Aziz is difficult and stormy, and is accompanied by intrigues, coalitions and manipulations, all of which occur behind the scenes; only the bottom line becomes known to the public, such as the firing of Prince Abd al-Rahman, minister of defense, or Prince Talal’s slamming the door behind him after the king named Naif to be the deputy of the prime minister, despite the fact that he wasn’t recommended by the Bi’a Council.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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