Saturday, October 22, 2011
Here's the Scoop on Saudi Arabia
RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's powerful Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ben Abdul Aziz, who is likely to become heir to the throne after the death of his brother Sultan, led an iron fist crackdown on Al Qaeda.
Prince Nayef, 78, seen as more conservative than King Abdullah, 87, is in fact a pragmatist who likes to describe himself as a soldier under the command of the Saudi monarch.
Interior minister for more than three decades, Nayef enjoys strong relations across the Arab region.
Diplomats say he played a key role in the kingdom's decisions to host Tunisia's ousted strongman Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali in January, and to dispatch troops in March to Bahrain to help put an end to protests led by the Shiites.
Born in the western city of Taif in 1933, Nayef was quickly pushed into public service, being named governor of Riyadh when he was barely 20.
His elder brother Fahd brought him into the interior ministry, where he was named deputy minister in 1970 and minister five years later, when Fahd became crown prince.
Nayef was credited for the successful crackdown on Al Qaeda militants in subsequent years, halting their wave of bloody attacks between 2003 and 2006.
His security campaign forced Al Qaeda leaders and many members to flee to southern neighbour Yemen, where they formed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which continues to threaten Saudi interests.
Charged with managing the country's borders, its internal crime-fighting apparatus and the internal intelligence force, the mabahith, he dismantled charities which used to collect donations for Osama Ben Laden and his network.
Prince Nayef's son, Prince Mohammed, who is the assistant interior minister and the kingdom's top counterterrorism official, escaped assassination in 2009, when a suicide bomber from Yemen failed to kill him.
In recent years he handed over day-to-day security activities to Mohammed, who has been more methodical in pursuing Islamist radicals and battling their ideology.
But critics said Prince Nayef targeted democracy and human rights activists while neglecting until recent years the rise of Islamic radicalism in the country.
Prince Nayef told reporters early in 2009 that he opposed electing members of the consultative Shura council, or to include women in the group. "I don't see the need for that," he said.
He defended members of Saudi Arabia's religious police, who have been often accused of brutality and abuse.
In recent months, the interior ministry have made sure that the country was not shaken by popular demonstrations. Prince Nayef has publicly thanked Saudis for not answering local activists' calls for protests.
The ministry also maintained order and calm in the Sunni oil-rich kingdom's east, where Riyadh accuses Iran of inciting the Shiite minority in the province.
Prince Nayef, who suffers from health problems, was the middle prince of the Sudairi Seven, the formidable bloc of sons of King Abdul Aziz by a favourite wife, Princess Hassa Al Sudairi.
His other brothers are King Fahd, who died in 2005, Crown Prince Sultan who passed away on Saturday and Prince Salman, governor of Riyadh.