Saudi Arabia is preparing for the funeral of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as attention inside the kingdom and abroad turns to his successor and the likely appointment of a new Saudi minister of defense.
The kingdom’s media continues to mourn Sultan, who was heir to King Abdullah for six years and had served as defense and aviation minister since 1962, after his death in New York on Saturday. An influx of world leaders is expected for today’s funeral.
Veteran Saudi Minister of the Interior Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, seen as more conservative than either Abdullah or Sultan, is widely tipped to be named in the coming days as the next in line to rule the world’s top oil exporter.
Another key decision that might be made in coming days is the appointment of a new minister of defense. Saudi Arabia has used multibillion-dollar arms purchases to cement its relations with key Western allies, making the defense minister a crucial figure in formulating both foreign and security policy.
Abdullah will probably choose to summon an Allegiance Council of the ruling Al Saud family, a body he created in 2006, but which will not technically assume its duties until after his death, to approve his choice of crown prince.
Prince Nayef has already assumed the day-to-day running of the kingdom during absences of both Abdullah and Sultan and has long been seen as next in line for the succession.
Despite his reputation as hawkish on foreign policy and opposed to some domestic political reforms, analysts say he might show a more liberal side as king.
Royal succession does not move directly from monarch to offspring, but has passed down a line of brothers born to the kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who died in 1953.
Whatever appointments he makes, King Abdullah will have to maintain a delicate balance of power in a royal family that has thousands of members, dozens of branches and dominates Saudi Arabia’s government, armed forces and business.
The changes could prompt the monarch to undertake the first major government reshuffle of his reign, although some analysts say he might prefer to wait to avoid any perception that changes were being made under pressure.
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