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
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas