Sunday, August 07, 2005

Prince Nayef and Prince Salman

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1724285,00.html

Jon Swain, in the Sunday Times August 07, 2005:

"After Abdullah and Sultan, the next direct descendant of Abdul Aziz is Prince Nayef, the interior minister. But he is a hardline conservative who is unpopular and lacks the common touch.

"The idea of the throne passing to him is anathema to reformers, and a lack of agreement within the court must explain why Abdullah has failed to name him the crown prince-designate as he should according to custom.

"Western diplomats do not believe Abdullah intends to fill the post. Nayef is close to the conservative religious establishment who favour quasi-religious rule. He turned down the idea of women voting in recent elections, says there is no cause to discuss any need for women to drive and initially said that the September 11 terrorist attacks on America in 2001 were a Zionist conspiracy.

"The betting is that Nayef will be skipped over in favour of Prince Salman. In his late sixties, Salman wields enormous power as the governor of Riyadh. He is highly sophisticated and talks of reform, but also assiduously cultivates the religious establishment.

"It would then be up to Salman to decide whether the next generation of western-educated princes should succeed. 'That is when it gets interesting,' said a western diplomat. 'There is no obvious logic or justification for deciding who is next.'

"Salman has three credible sons, one an astronaut, the first Arab in space. A family feud seems inevitable. Prince Talal, a son of Abdul Aziz, called such a quarrel the 'biggest danger' to the royal family.

"A more immediate worry for Abdullah is how to reform and modernise without antagonising the religious establishment....

"The country is facing a demographic timebomb. With 70% of its population under 21, incomes falling and a soaring birth rate, Saudi society is like a runaway train heading for a crash. With the price of oil shooting to $60 a barrel, Abdullah now has the money to keep it running on the rails, provided he does not waste it.

"Over the years the monarchies of Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Yemen have all been swept away..."


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