By FT Reporter
Published: October 22 2011 12:48 | Last updated: October 22 2011 12:48
Saudi Arabia’s crown Prince, Sultan bin Abdelaziz Al Saud has died in New York following a long illness, believed to have been cancer. He was thought to be 85.
Interior minister Prince Naif, 77, a 77 year-old conservative with close ties to the religious establishment, is expected to succeed him as crown prince and the future king of Saudi Arabia after King Abdullah, raising concern about the future of social and judicial reforms in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan, who has been defence minister since 1962, had been in New York since June. Although the government has never disclosed his illness, he had spent most of the past 3 years either getting treatment in New York or recuperating in Morocco. His long absence prompted King Abdullah to appoint Prince Naif, as deputy prime minister in 2009, a post that is traditionally held by the next in line to the Saudi throne.
Prince Sultan, crown prince since August 2005, was a key figure in the royal family. He was one of the so-called Sudairi seven; powerful brothers who are sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdelaziz and Princess Hussa al-Sudairi. They include late King Fahd, as well as Prince Naif and Prince Salman, Riyadh’s governor.
As minister of defence and aviation, he oversaw huge deals for arms aircraft with Western countries, some of which were marred by corruption. He was also in charge of the Yemeni file and headed the Special Committee, a body that handles ties and stipends to Yemeni sheikhs.
Prince Sultan’s death comes few days after King Abdullah underwent spinal surgery in Riyadh. The king had two back operations last year in New York.
While the kingdom, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a key Western ally, does not face a political vacuum, the health and age of the king and his brothers have raised concern about rapid succession.
The throne passes from one brother to another, according to competence and age, rather than from father to son. Since death of King Abdelaziz in 1953, five of his sons have succeeded each other. King Abdullah’s predecessor, Fahd, was 61 when he became king, while Abdullah was 82.
Traditionally, the king chooses his crown prince, but it is not entirely clear yet if king Abdullah or the Allegiance Council, which he formed in 2006, will pick or confirm the next in line. The council, composed of the sons and grandsons of king Abdelaziz, is in charge of choosing future crown princes. But its mandate is not supposed to begin until the reigns of Abdullah and Sultan are over.
Prince Sultan is survived by at least 30 sons by more than a dozen wives. Prominent among them is Prince Khalid, assistant minister of defence and aviation, and Prince Bandar, the former ambassador to the United States who currently heads the National Security Council.
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