Jun 18 2012
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WSJ(6/18) Saudis Bury Crown Prince In Mecca
Monday, Jun 18, 2012
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The surviving sons of King Abdulaziz gathered in the holy city of Mecca to bury the second heir to the throne within eight months, moving the succession process closer to a new generation in a family determined to maintain stability as the Middle East is gripped by political change.
Arabic news channels showed the 88-year-old King Abdullah, grim-faced in a gold-trimmed brown robe, receiving condolences and kisses on the hand from mourners.
King Abdullah has now outlived two appointed successors from among the elderly group of sons of Saudi's founding monarch, King Abdulaziz. The youngest of more than a dozen living sons of King Abdulaziz is 66 years old.
Sometime in the next week, heads of branches within the ruling family are expected to hear King Abdullah's pick for the next crown prince. The choice is widely expected to be 76-year-old Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the king's half-brother.
"Salman's choice as crown prince is seen as an obvious one, what comes after, and when the monarchy passes to the next generation, is less obvious," said Stephane Lecroix, an instructor at France's Sciences Po University who conducted several years of research in Saudi Arabia.
"I would say that this is a wake-up call" for the Saudi royal family, Mr. Lecroix said. "All these members of the first generation are finishing, all these big names are almost gone, so you have to make a plan."
In the short term, the overriding goal of the House of Saud will remain continuity rather than reform of the kingdom's domestic and foreign policies,
With Prince Nayef's death, "there are some thoughts that there could be a softening of the hard-line approach" to political dissent, said Jane Kinninmont, a Middle East analyst at London-based Chatham House. "Those hopes have to be very cautious. A change of crown prince doesn't signal any radical change in Saudi Arabia, because it is never about a couple of individuals."
Saudis have watched how succession issues played a role in uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East. They face some of the same challenges as other Arab states, such as high unemployment and a disproportionately youthful population.
One of Prince Nayef's last requests last week was for Saudis to ease youth unemployment, stressing the "security aspect" involved, Saudi Labor Minister Adel Fakieh, who visited the crown prince as he received medical care in Geneva, told Saudi Arabia's Al Sharq al Awsat newspaper.
Streets in the capital city, Riyadh, emptied as TV showed the funeral services and the king, seated, repeating the traditional prayers.
Princes in traditional headdress carried the body of the late crown prince, wrapped in a simple brown cloth on a flat, open bier, through the mourners gathered at Islam's holiest shrine.
Prince Salman, who has been governor of Riyadh for more than a half-century, is known as a "very cautious liberal," Mr. Lecroix at Sciences Po said. Since becoming defense minister on the death of Crown Prince Sultan in October, Prince Salman has "pretty much traveled to every base in Saudi Arabia, looked at the problems there, tried to instigate reforms [in the ministry]," said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in Qatar.
Prince Salman visited U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials in Washington in April. Analysts familiar with the kingdom's security forces said they expected no lessening of U.S.-Saudi counterterror cooperation.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the son of Crown Prince Nayef, "is going to be the main guy" for Saudi Arabia's counterterror program, Mr. Stephens said.
Key promotions following the appointment of the next crown prince will help signal who among the grandsons of the first Saudi king are considered future candidates for the most senior positions, including that of king, said Theodore Karazik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
"This is what we have to look for. . .who moves from a governorship to national leadership, and that will be the generational shift," Mr. Karazik said.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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