May 24, 2013
Wikileaks cables give US insight into Saudi succession
The Saudi prince seen as most likely to accede may in office prove less conservative than his public image suggests, according to leaked US diplomatic cables, which offer rare insights into the succession debate inside America's ally and leading oil supplier.
The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and reviewed by Reuters run a close commentary on the rules and candidates to succeed King Abdullah, around 87, on the assumption that the current Crown Prince, who is slightly younger and also has health problems, would not remain king for long even if he takes the throne. The cables pre-date the king's latest publicized illness.
Interior Minister Prince Nayef, around 76, is "currently best-placed as a Crown Prince-in-waiting" according to an October 2009 cable. He is widely seen as more of a social and religious traditionalist than the king, whose efforts at reform have included education, the judiciary and creating a modern state by trying to lessen the grip of clerics on society, although their impetus has waned with his health problems.
A March 2009 cable on Nayef's promotion to second deputy prime minister points out that Nayef "is often said to be a strong Arab nationalist suspicious of ties with the U.S.," but it goes on to say that the US government "has an excellent and expanding institutional relationship with the Ministry of Interior," which it could not have without Nayef's "full support."
Nayef's appointment as second deputy- a traditional prelude to possibly becoming crown prince - was portrayed at the time to US diplomats as a purely administrative move to ensure continuity while King Abdullah travelled out of the country, but the cable also cites one embassy contact as saying "100 percent there was a deal."
Nayef raised eyebrows abroad after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States when he denied Saudis were among the hijackers, suggested Jews instead were behind the attacks, and held up cooperation with Western security bodies. He has backed the religious police who roam the streets to make sure unrelated men and women do not mix and shops close during prayer times.
The cable says he has always been somewhat of an enigma, but "his actions do not support the theory that he is a reactionary or actively working against the king.
"While Nayef is widely seen as a conservative, this is not surprising for a minister whose main preoccupation is maintaining law and order," the cable says, adding: "Most observers viewed then-Crown Prince Abdullah as much more conservative and reactionary than he has proven to be as king."
The cable argues Nayef may be more likely to prove "a pragmatist who eschews ideology, and who has supported the king's efforts to combat both terrorism and radical ideologies." Since becoming second deputy prime minister, Nayef has expanded his power base beyond security, touching other areas such as inflation or foreign policy.