Courtesy Reuters

Prince Nayef's Rise And Saudi Arabia's Step Backward

The Kingdom's Illiberal Future

The October 22 death of Crown Prince Sultan -- Saudi Arabia's first deputy prime minister, minister of defense and aviation, and King Abdullah's heir apparent -- and his replacement days later by Prince Nayef is another minor chapter in the long saga of Saudi succession. It happened smoothly and without much drama. Abdullah apparently selected Nayef, his 78-year-old half brother, for the post himself. He did not use the Allegiance Council, which he created in 2006, to assist in the selection of the crown prince or king and only informally consulted the senior princes on the decision.

Even before Sultan's death, Nayef, who has served as interior minister for 37 years, was the favored choice to replace him. He was named second deputy prime minister in 2009, although King Abdullah was rumored to be unenthusiastic about promoting him at the time, since Nayef and his six full brothers, who are sons of the founding king's favorite wife, are considered a challenge to the authority of Abdullah, who is only a half brother. Still, the only other contender for crown prince was Prince Salman, the Governor of Riyadh province, who met the suitability requirements but is younger than Nayef. Salman has reportedly been selected as Defense Minister and could become second Deputy Prime Minister, the stepping stone to Crown Prince.

Nayef's role in government will depend on how Abdullah chooses to use him -- much like an American vice president. Abdullah has used the crown prince quite actively in the past, even allowing Sultan to temporarily take the reins of government when he has been incapacitated, for example, in 2010, when he travelled to the United States for surgery. There were even times when both the elderly king and crown prince were on medical leave, and Nayef held executive authority.

Nayef assumes his new seat at a time of incredible stress for the kingdom. Saudi Arabia's elderly leadership has to cope with instability in Yemen, Iran's risky nuclear behavior, uncertainties about who will lead Egypt, Syria, and

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