Nayef to become heir to Saudi throne as kingdom clings to conservatism

The Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, is likely to be appointed heir to the country's throne by King Abdullah in the next few days in a move likely to reinforce the kingdom's rigid political, social and religious conservatism.

Prince Nayef, believed to be 78, becomes Crown Prince after the death of his brother Prince Sultan from cancer in a New York hospital last week.

Although he has a reputation for reactionary views on women's rights, democracy and almost everything else, so little is known about Prince Nayef, despite his holding important jobs for 60 years, that even his date of birth and the exact number of his wives and children are uncertain.

King Abdullah, who is officially 87 but may be older, has had a reputation for seeking very limited reforms in Saudi Arabia but in practice has done very little.

The succession of Prince Nayef is therefore unlikely to make much difference to the ruling family's centuries-old compact with Wahhabi religious fundamentalism or its 60-year alliance with the US.

The Saudi royal family has always placed strong emphasis on unity to retain their grip on power.

The strength of Prince's Nayef's position is that he is a member of the Sudairi Seven, who are all children of the favourite wife of King Ibn Saud, who founded Saudi Arabia in 1932.

Prince Nayef was a full brother to Prince Sultan and King Fahd, who died in 2005 and was succeeded by his half-brother Abdullah. Prince Nayef is now the most important of the Sudairis.

Prince Nayef's personality and views are shadowy. A cable from the US State Department released by WikiLeaks describes him as "elusive, ambiguous, pragmatic, unimaginative, shrewd and outspoken", although there are few examples of his outspokenness.

The American diplomat writing the cable described him as "a conservative pragmatist convinced that security and stability are imperative" to preserve Saudi rule and the future of Saudi Arabia.

This is probably true, but the same could be said of the rest of the upper ranks of Saudi royals. Prince Nayef's elevation comes as the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, visits the kingdom.

The succession is of heightened significance in a year in which the Arab awakening has weakened or overthrown many traditional Saudi allies as well as some of its enemies.

The Saudi ruling elite was shocked when Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power in February and the whole political status quo in the Arab world seemed to be capsizing.

There were pro-democracy demonstrations in neighbouring Bahrain and Yemen followed by popular revolt in Syria. The Saudis had already been dismayed by the Shia and Kurds taking power in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's overthrow in 2003.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Part Time

£10500 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Part Time Accounts Assistant ...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company supply, install an...

Tradewind Recruitment: Reception Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: An excellent three form entry scho...

The Green Recruitment Company: Commercial Construction Manager

£65000 Per Annum bonus & benefits package: The Green Recruitment Company: The ...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'