SAUDI ARABIA. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, buried Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, raising the issue of succession in the kingdom for the second time in less than a year.
Nayef, who also served as interior minister for more than three decades, was interred yesterday in Mecca in an unmarked grave, as stipulated by the Sunni Wahhabi version of Islam. King Abdullah, who is in his late 80s, attended the ceremony.
Nayef’s death, the first time in modern Saudi history that a king has outlived two crown princes, leaves Prince Salman bin Abdullaziz as a leading contender for the crown prince position, as the kingdom grapples with high youth unemployment, security issues including the threat of al-Qaeda militants and unprecedented political change in the Middle East.
“Salman is obviously the candidate,” said Robert Lacey, author of “Inside the Kingdom,” a 2009 history of Saudi Arabia. “People would say that he has been a king in waiting for 20 years.”
Salman, born in 1935, served as governor of Riyadh for almost five decades. In that time, the capital grew from a city of about 150,000 people to about 5 million people, according to data on the website of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He was appointed defense minister after Nayef was named crown prince in October.
Salman, like Nayef, is one of the influential brothers known as the Sudairi Seven, the sons of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, and one of his wives, Hassa bint-Ahmed al-Sudairi.
Since taking on the role as defense minister, Salman has raised his public profile by visiting soldiers around the country.
“He has got charisma,” Lacey said. “He has got the presence of a king.”
Other senior royals include Foreign Minister Saud Al- Faisal, born in 1940, and Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz.
King Abdullah’s son Mutaib, who heads the 110,000-man National Guard, and another son, Abdul Aziz, who serves as deputy foreign minister, are also in senior members of the family. So is Khaled al-Faisal, the governor of the Mecca region, former Crown Prince Sultan’s son Khaled and Nayef’s son Mohammad, who serve as deputy ministers.
Following Sultan’s death, Abdullah waited for the end of the three-day morning period before appointing Nayef on Oct. 28 as heir to the throne. Salman followed Sultan as defense minister on Nov. 5.
Succession is unlikely to have a major impact on Saudi policies, said analysts including Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at the Jeddah-based National Commercial Bank.
Saudi Arabia will make sure there is enough supply in the global crude market, Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said at last week’s OPEC meeting. Crude for July delivery rose 12 cents to $84.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange June 15.
The change comes as Saudi Arabia confronts unemployment, an issue cited by some activists during the unrest that led to the toppling of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya during the so-called Arab Spring that began in December 2010. Joblessness reached 27 percent for Saudis between 20 and 30 years old in 2009, according to official data.