World waits for Saudi king to announce new heir
By Rizwan Khatik - Thu Oct 27, 4:59 am
Riyadh: The world’s eyes are on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz on Wednesday to make the widely expected choice of veteran Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz as his new heir, a decision that would emphasise stability in the top oil exporter.
The funeral of Crown Prince Sultan on Tuesday set the stage for the high-profile appointment in Saudi Arabia, a major US ally with an ageing leadership trying to reconcile conservative traditions with the needs of a modern economy and a young, increasingly outward-looking population.
“In the political system this is an important event, but the system is designed to ensure continuity,” said Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at National Commercial Bank in Jeddah.
Prince Nayef, born in 1933, is sometimes described by Saudi liberals as an anti-reform conservative who is likely to take a cautious approach to social and political change, while viewing foreign policy through the lens of national security.
However, former diplomats to Riyadh and some analysts say the man who has served as interior minister since 1975 may show a more pragmatic side as crown prince — and eventually as king.
In his six-year-old reign, the octogenarian King Abdullah has pushed changes aimed at creating jobs by liberalising markets and loosening the grip of religious hardliners over education and social policy.
The country holds a vital position on the world stage as it dominates oil markets, holds profound influence over Muslims through its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Makkah and Madinah, and faces turbulence in its neighbours and a regional rival in Iran.
The funeral for Sultan, who died of colon cancer in New York on Saturday, took place in Riyadh’s sprawling Imam Turki Bin Abdullah mosque.
The Royal Court said it would be open to accept condolences for three days. A US delegation headed by Vice-President Joe Biden is expected in Riyadh on Thursday.