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Fri 4 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Saudi suicide attack sees prince’s stock rise

A failed attempt on the life of Saudi’s security chief could strengthen position of his conservative father.

Saudi suicide attack sees prince’s stock rise
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.
Saudi suicide attack sees prince’s stock rise
Saudi officials have spoken of their concern that Yemen could become the launchpad for a revival of the militant campaign in Saudi.

A failed attempt on the life of Saudi Arabia’s security chief could strengthen the position of his conservative father, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, in the race to become the next king.A suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant last week blew himself up in the Jeddah office of security chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in the first known attack on a member of the Saudi royal family since al Qaeda began a violent campaign in the desert Kingdom in 2003.

The attack has refocused attention on Saudi Arabia’s fight against Islamist insurgents, which Prince Nayef has led since 2003, winning plaudits from US officials.

“The security apparatus, embodied by [Interior Minister] Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz and even his son, will wield greater influence on the Kingdom’s policy agenda,” a Western diplomat in Riyadh said.

The world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament or rights to form political parties, where clerics of an austere school of Sunni Islam control mosques, education, courts and their own public policing body.

Saudi’s King Abdullah is seen as a supporter of Western-friendly reforms which aim to reduce the religious establishment’s hold on the country that produced al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But diplomats say he has been stymied by conservative princes like Nayef, who maintains close ties to the clerics and does not want to upset the traditional balance of power between the religious establishment and the Saudi royal family.

Liberals fear for the fate of reforms if Prince Nayef were to be put in charge of the country, diplomats say.

Prince Nayef, believed to be 76, was appointed second deputy prime minister earlier this year, leaving him in charge of the country when King Abdullah and his appointed successor Crown Prince Sultan — who are both in their 80s — are abroad.

Prince Sultan has been out of the country since November because of unspecified illness and surgery, creating uneasiness over succession.

King Abdullah has set up an ‘Allegiance Council’ of senior princes to vote on future kings and their deputies, but analysts say rivalry and jockeying for position is already intense.

Newspapers in recent days were full of panegyric articles about Prince Mohammed, with advertisements of thanks featuring the portraits of the king, crown prince, Nayef and his son.“This attack adds to the credit of the interior ministry. It confirms the fact that Prince Mohammed has become the foe to beat for al Qaeda,” said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi politics professor. “It should get [his father] Prince Nayef credit among the senior royals.”

The terrorist attack was claimed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is believed to have regrouped in neighbouring Yemen.

Saudi officials had talked of their concern that Yemen could become the launchpad for a revival of the 2003 militant campaign in Saudi Arabia.

Nayef has had mixed success in persuading clerics to discourage radical ideology, which espouses violence against Muslims and Muslim governments seen as un-Islamic.

Hundreds of suspects have been arrested since 2006 for seeking to form cells and Nayef admonished hundreds of clerics in 2007 for tacit or overt support for Saudis heading to Iraq. He also said they were being used as fodder for suicide attacks.

“The level of trust between Prince Nayef and the clerics is unmatched elsewhere,” a senior Arab diplomat said. “He has repeatedly criticised them for not toning down the rhetoric that breeds radicalism, yet they have always been like honey on butter.”

Christopher Boucek, an associate in the Carnegie Middle East Programme, wondered: “Will the attempted assassination of his son lead him to be more direct in dealing with the clergy? It will be very interesting to see how that plays out.”

A stronger Prince Nayef could also embolden clerics in their opposition to reforms, since many of them argue that moves towards “Westernisation”, such as relaxing the Kingdom’s system of public gender segregation, encourages a zealous reaction.

The secrecy of the ruling family and political system means there could still be surprises, the Western diplomat said.

“[Prince Nayef] is becoming the strong man of the Kingdom’s regime.

“But whether this is because of the opacity that surrounds the succession issue remains to be seen,” he said.

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Khandker Mizanur Rahman 8 years ago

I would like to congratulate the next crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mr. Nayef and Pray to Allah for his long live on the earth to do the best for the human being and pre Eidul AAzha wish-"Eid Mubarrak".