Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has appointed the second deputy prime minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, to oversee the hajj pilgrimage, the state news agency said, a day after doctors ordered rest for the ruler due to a slipped disc. Prince Nayef is also Interior Minister.
Earlier in the week, Prince Nayef chaired the cabinet meeting, which the King usually chairs.
King Abdullah, who took charge in 2005, is estimated to be 87-years-old. Prince Nayef, thought to be about 76, was appointed second deputy prime minister in 2009. This places him second in line to the throne after the Crown Prince, Prince Sultan.
Prince Sultan, the king's half-brother who is also in his 80s, has been abroad for unspecified health treatment for much of the last two years and diplomats in Riyadh say he has not resumed full duties. He is outside the country after leaving for what was described in August as a holiday in Morocco.
November 10-15, 2010
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
Whilst the illness of King Abdullah is not serious or life-threatening, it nonetheless has brought to the fore the issue of succession in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan is thought to be suffering from cancer and has been reportedly close to death during the past two years, although his condition appears to have improved. He is also in his 80’s. Even if the King and his two deputies, Princes Sultan and Nayef do indeed succeed each other as monarchs, their age and medical conditions mean that the kingdom is likely to face a number of short-term successions.
The choice of king usually falls on the senior members of the ruling family. With a vast number of eligible candidates, as King Abdul Aziz has hundreds if not thousands of grandchildren many belonging to competing sides of the family, it is likely that the issue of succession will not be easily resolved. The most prominent second-generation prince is Prince Saud, the foreign minister. However, Prince Saud is also in his 70’s and reportedly suffers from a medical condition. Without introducing younger members of the second-generation princes into the line of succession, this issue will be of concern to the stability of the kingdom in years to come as well as the future of the reforms introduced by King Abdullah. This is especially a concern as Prince Nayef is considered a conservative and may slow down or even reverse the reforms should he become king.
So although the current illness of King Abdullah is not serious, it has exposed the potential power vacuum that could be created by his demise, with implications on Saudi reforms and the rest of the Arab world, as well as relations with the West.