by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 5, Sha'ban, 1433)
The death on June 16 of Saudi “Crown Prince” Nayef ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz in Geneva has sent the desert kingdom into a frenzy of grief and panic.
He was expected to succeed the ailing King Abdullah who at 89 is virtually incapacitated and unable to function. He was buried in Makkah on June 17. Following funeral prayers, which King Abdullah attended along with rulers from Arabian and some Muslim countries, the king was immediately admitted into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a local hospital. Abdullah suffers from a long list of ailments including diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, cholesterol, high blood pressure and many others. Rumors quickly spread that the king was about to join his just-buried half-brother. As deputy prime minister, Nayef presided over cabinet meetings to fill in for the absent Abdullah but over the last few months, even Nayef was unable to discharge these duties. Reflective of their lifestyle and how detached they are from Islam, Nayef, like his predecessor, Crown Prince Sultan, died in the West. Last October, Sultan died in a New York hospital where he was being treated for cancer. Nayef was on “holidays” and receiving medical treatment in Geneva, according to an official Saudi announcement, where he died. While he suffered from diabetes and this was publicly acknowledged, there were other ailments as well that afflicted him such as cardiac problems and related health issues; these were never officially acknowledged.
Nayef’s loss will be felt most acutely in the area of internal security because he had served as interior minister since 1975. He was known as Mr. Security and controlled virtually every aspect of life in the kingdom. He commanded a paramilitary force of 130,000 charged with protecting the kingdom from internal uprisings. Nayef also controlled the secret security services, all national and local police officers, and customs and immigration. The coast guard whose duties include protecting the long coastlines of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea as well as the Persian Gulf also came under his command, as did the border guard. Nayef’s most influential ally, however, was the extremist Saudi religious establishment, especially the muttawwa, the notorious religious police force, that not only enforced an archaic interpretation of Islam but also threatened Muslims by accusing them of indulging in bid‘ah, thereby virtually excommunicating them from Islam if they did anything the muttawwa did not approve of.
Nayef held the most extreme views among members of the House of Saud and was totally averse to even a hint of criticism of its policies or rule. He clamped down hard on any such attempts. In March 2009, he told a group of academics and lawyers that had called on him seeking permission to establish a Human Rights Organization that what the House of Saud had taken by sword, “we will keep by the sword.” He had the academics promptly arrested. According to the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, there are more than 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
Public executions are widespread. The victims are mostly poor workers from such countries as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. Accused of petty crimes such as stealing or possessing a few grams of heroine, they are publicly executed in a square in Riyadh after Jumu‘ah (Friday) prayers to terrorize the population. The Saudi legal system is a cruel hoax; there is no defence provided and sentences are handed down based on the testimony of police who are notoriously unreliable and prejudiced against poor foreign workers. In April, 25 Iranian fishermen were executed after being arrested on the high seas 70 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The arrests occurred in 2006. They were accused of smuggling drugs. The fishermen were not in Saudi territorial waters, and thus were not subject to Saudi jurisdiction even if they possessed drugs, an allegation rejected by Iran. Despite strong diplomatic representations from Iran to the Saudi regime, these protests went unheeded because of Nayef’s extreme hatred of Iran and of the Shi‘is.
Nayef was also in the forefront of an anti-Iranian campaign because he saw Iran’s revolutionary fervor as a threat to the rule of the House of Saud. In 1987, he had ordered the massacre of more than 400 Iranian hujjaj in Makkah that became an international scandal and sent shock waves throughout the Muslim world. It was a brazen violation of the sanctity of the sacred city of Makkah. To perpetrate the bloodbath, the Saudi regime had hired the services of a German military officer, General Ulrich Wegner, who according to the German news agency DPA, was an “anti-terrorism expert”. Contrary to the Qur’anic command, the Saudis brought General Wegner and seven other German anti-terrorism experts — all non-Muslims — into Makkah. Wegner reported directly to Nayef.
Never before in the history of Islam, barring the Yazidi army’s assault against Abdullah ibn Zubayr in 683–692ce and the Qaramitah’s attack on Makkah in 930ce did such sacrilege take place. Even the Makkan mushriks before the advent of Islam respected Makkah’s sanctity. Not so the House of Saud, especially with Nayef as interior minister. Even though there is no accountability in the desert kingdom for members of the ruling family, many ordinary Muslims around the world fervently prayed to the Just and Almighty Lord to punish Nayef and his ilk for the crimes they have perpetrated against innocent people for decades, all the while violating the sanctity of Makkah and Madinah with such brazen disregard for divine commands.
In March 2011, Nayef had pushed for sending Saudi troops into Bahrain where they perpetrated horrible crimes against Bahraini civilians. Two days before Nayef’s death, a Bahraini court quashed sentences against nine Bahraini doctors who had been held in prison for months. Eleven others were sentenced to various terms for doing no more than discharging their duty as medical personnel to look after the wounded and other sick people. The illegal Bahraini rulers and their Saudi masters interpreted this as supporting the uprising against the Khalifa family rule. In May, the Saudis tried to push for a political and security union with Bahrain that was roundly condemned by people in Bahrain. The union was being pushed through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a conglomerate of tribal monarchies that cling to each other in fear and hope to prevent the winds of change that might blow their tottering regimes away.
Members of the House of Saud, however, are a frightened bunch. They can see the writing on the wall even if they put on a brave face in public. Two developments are deeply worrying for them: mass uprisings sweeping the Muslim East (aka the Middle East), and their own aging rulers. Most of the senior members of the ruling family are in their 70s or 80s. The next generation is also in their 60s. These are vulnerable years for all of them. King Abdullah has seen two crown princes dispatched to the other side in quick succession: Sultan in October 2011 and Nayef in June 2012. How long will it be before he and others also head to their graves leaving a succession vacuum because the House of Saud has not planned an orderly transition to the next generation?
Last March, Nayef was admitted to Cleveland Clinic in the US for what was described by private sources as routine “medical tests.” These tests were anything but routine; insiders said he had undergone a heart operation. The staff at Cleveland Clinic was under strict orders not to divulge any information, not even confirming or denying his presence, but Crescent International was able to get information from some of the staff at the facility. The Saudi regime only confirmed the news once Nayef returned to the kingdom in April after spending an entire month there. Within a few weeks, he was in Geneva for what was described as “holiday” and additional “medical tests.” On June 3, his brother Ahmed who serves as deputy interior minister, said Nayef was in “good health” and would return “soon”. He did, but in a bodybag!
After Nayef’s death, Prince Salman, who was appointed defence minister only last October following Sultan’s death, was appointed the new crown prince. It is almost akin to a death warrant with two crown princes dying in quick succession. Since 1963, Salman who is 76 or 77 (the exact age is unknown) had served as governor of Riyadh. Another prince, Talal ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz, also staked claim to the post of crown prince although his claim has never been taken seriously. Talal is married to an American woman and his son al-Waleed is a high-flying property tycoon, with a personal fortune of $20 billion that makes him among one of the richest people in the world. He is also building the world’s tallest tower in Jeddah. One wonders to prove what?
Saudi Arabia claims that its constitution is based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah but succession is determined by the next brother in line among the sons of ‘Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud. No Islamic principles are involved here. The old man sired some 35 sons and 22 daughters from multiple wives, but almost all of them are now in the danger age zone of their lives. Deaths in quick succession have caused panic; with each new death, fear intensifies. King Fahd died in 2005; he had become incapacitated much earlier. Then crown prince Abdullah handled the day-to-day running of the kingdom. When crown prince Sultan died in October 2011, King Abdullah was already in poor health. Nayef stepped in to fill in for him, but only temporarily. With Nayef gone, this role has now fallen to Salman. How long will it be before Abdullah, Salman and other brothers and half-brothers in the Saudi geriatric ward also go six-feet under?
Two questions are uppermost in people’s minds. What will come first in the kingdom: the revolutionary spring sweeping the region or the succession battle that is bound to break out among Saudi royals? Saudi Arabia is heading for exciting times.