Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Nayef, who served as interior minister of the Arab world’s largest economy for more than three decades, has died. He was in his late 70s.
Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was a member of the influential “Sudairi Seven,” sons of the founder of the kingdom and one of his wives, Hassa bint-Ahmed al-Sudairi. His death means King Abdullah must appoint an heir for the second time in nine months. Prince Sultan, the previous crown prince, died on Oct. 22.
Head of the Interior Ministry since 1975, Nayef served under three monarchs and set up an extensive security network to tackle the threat from groups such as al-Qaeda. Considered more conservative than his half-brother, King Abdullah, he backed the religious police and clamped down on the Shiite Muslim minority at a time of turmoil in the Middle East and high unemployment at home.
While Saudi Arabia has been left mostly unscathed by the Arab revolts of the past year and a half, Prince Nayef took a hard line toward political dissent. At a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in March 2011 he said there were “evil people” who “wanted to make the kingdom a place for chaos and marches that are void of noble goals,” the BBC reported.
Nayef was born in 1933, according to the website of the Institute for Research and Consulting Services, at the Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, which didn’t give his precise date of birth. He will be buried in an unmarked grave, as stipulated by the Sunni Wahabbi version of Islam.
The royal family began to gather in Mecca ahead of Nayef’s funeral today, the Saudi Press Agency said. Abdullah was met by his sons and other princes in Islam’s holiest city, it said.
Nayef, who was born in the city of Taif, received his early education in religion, culture and diplomacy alongside his brothers in the Royal Court and bred Arabian horses at his stables, according to the website of the Saudi Embassy in Washington. He was also an avid hunter and swimmer, it said.
He was appointed governor of Riyadh province in 1953, the embassy said. In 1992, King Fahd appointed Nayef as head of a committee that established the Majlis Al-Shoura, or the Consultative Council system.
King Abdullah changed the monarchy’s succession rules in 2007 to give an appointed commission of princes, called the Allegiance Council, more power to select a new ruler. The council is also to name the crown prince after Nayef. Abdullah became king in 2005 after the death of his half brother Fahd.
Six kings have ruled Saudi Arabia since it was established in 1932. When King Fahd died in 2005, after ruling the kingdom for 23 years, the Royal Court announced on the same day that Abdullah would become the monarch. The current king was born in Riyadh in 1924, according to the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
The 1992 basic law stipulates that the king must be a son or grandson of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud. Nayef’s death means that for the first time in Saudi Arabia’s modern history a king has outlived two crown princes.
Prince Salman, a former governor of Riyadh province who was named to that post in 1962, is now one of the most senior princes and one of four surviving Sudairi brothers. He was born in 1935, according to the website of the embassy in Washington.
King Abdullah’s son Prince Mutaib is head of the National Guard, a 110,000-man Bedouin force loyal to the royal family. Another son, Prince Abdul Aziz, is the deputy foreign minister. Sultan’s son Prince Khaled is deputy defense minister, and Nayef’s son Prince Mohammad is the deputy minister for security affairs.
Mohammed was injured in August 2009 when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the prince’s office in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah after saying he wanted to turn himself in. Officials said the explosives were hidden in the assailant’s underwear.
Islamic militants had begun a violent campaign against the country in 2003 in an effort to weaken the ruling family’s control of its oil reserves and break the kingdom’s ties with the U.S. Western nationals were targeted in the violence, which included kidnappings and bombings, until a crackdown by the Interior Ministry subdued the militants.
In September 2010, Nayef said Saudi Arabia was able to “crush” the ideology of terrorism. The Interior Ministry’s forces had arrested 11,527 people since Sept. 11, 2001, for their alleged involvement in terrorism, according to an April 2011 ministry statement.
During Nayef’s time as interior minister, Saudi Arabia relied on the U.S. for military protection in return for stable oil supplies. The kingdom spent $11.2 billion on U.S. weapons between 2005 and 2008, making it the biggest foreign buyer of American arms during the period, according to the Congressional Research Service in Washington.
In 2009, the kingdom, which is majority Sunni, fought Yemeni Shiite rebels in a three-month war along its southern border. Apache helicopters, made by Chicago-based Boeing Co., F-15 jet fighters and artillery were deployed to dislodge the fighters, known as Houthis, after they killed a national guardsman and seized territory inside the kingdom.
The Royal Court didn’t specify the cause of Nayef’s death. He left the kingdom last month for scheduled medical tests and a private holiday, the court said. The prince also went to Cleveland in March for separate medical tests.