There has been an unusual development in the much-debated topic of the Saudi succession, with the late August assassination attempt on Assistant Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef Bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud (MBN) by Yemeni-born suicide bomber Abdullah Hassan Tali Al-Asiri catapulting the interior minister’s son to the front of a group of third-generation contenders for the throne (GSN 861/8,860/1).
Observers have noted the difference between MBN and his father, Prince Nayef Bin Abdelaziz, in dealing with Sunni terrorists. The extremist mentality that was partially tolerated by Nayef is being amended by MBN, who has overseen much of the Saudi terrorist rehabilitation programme since its inception. Shortly after the attack, the daily Al-Sharq Al- Awsat published a detailed report on MBN’s role in fighting extremists and commented: “They [the extremists] have lost the kindest person dealing with them.” But while MBN may have a softer touch where Sunni opponents are concerned, GSN has previously noted that, working with his first cousin and ally Eastern Province governor Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd, he has been behind a number of heavy-handed crackdowns against the Shia population (GSN 860/4).
Increasing prominence for Sudeiri grandsons
With Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdelaziz out of the Kingdom for nearly a year for treatment, Nayef – following his elevation to second deputy premier in April – has been undertaking the kind of duties normally reserved for the heir apparent: meeting military officials, hosting provincial governor meetings and receiving outgoing ambassadors (GSN 851/1). This has allowed MBN an increased role in the day-to-day running of the Ministry of Interior. Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid Bin Sultan is in a similar position, taking on more responsibility at the Ministry of Defence and Aviation (GSN 846/5, 845/1). MBN was recently in the United States for a three-day visit, during which he met senior officials, including President Barack Obama (see Royals Watch).
The relatively young MBN’s most prominent role came in June 2003, when Saudi terrorist mastermind Ali Al-Ghamdi handed himself over to the prince. MBN has gone on to show kindness to Al-Ghamdi’s family, helping them financially and paying for medical treatment of family members. After the attempted assassination on 27 August, MBN rang the parents of Al-Asiri to express his condolences. While such behaviour might be considered odd in western countries, in the tribal societies of the Arab world it is a public relations triumph not to mention paternal sentiments towards wayward sons. But MBN’s softer side should not overshadow his track record of fighting extremists – most of the 45 Saudis on the Kingdom’s most-wanted list have been killed or captured.
A flawed list of contenders
MBN’s chances of becoming the first sovereign from among the grandsons of King Abdelaziz are also boosted by the problems – ranging from corruption allegations to ill health to foreign mothers – of some other contenders. From the second generation, Prince Miqrin continues to be mentioned as a strong candidate, although his mother was Yemeni, which may count against him (GSN 828/3,827/16,820/8,805/4,772/7). Another younger-generation prince considered to be in the running is Saudi Commission for Tourism chairman Sultan, son of popular Riyadh governor Prince Salman Bin Abdelaziz. There has also been some talk of Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal Bin Abdelaziz, who does not yet hold a public role but is considered by some to be a rising star due to his profile outside the Kingdom. His father, Prince Khalid, has been in the limelight following his appointment as Makkah governor in May 2007 (GSN 822/7, 820/8,806/7,806/7,805/40).
Few of the younger princes can match MBN’s credentials, not least his impeccable bloodline – he is descended from the Al-Saud family through both parents as his mother, Jawahar Bint Abdelaziz Bin Musaid, is from the family’s Jiluwi branch. He is also married to Reema Bint Sultan, a daughter of the crown prince. Even without his father becoming King as expected, MBN’s claims to the throne are unrivalled in one aspect: out of some thousands of Al-Saud royals, including the top 100 or so involved in security affairs, MBN is one of the very few to be able to claim that he has ‘paid in blood’ for his country – and that is a tough claim to beat.
This article was originally published in Gulf States Newsletter on October 23, 2009.