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Middle East
Obituary: Crown Prince Nayef
Saudi Arabia's crown prince, and interior minister for 27 years, stressed security and stability in a changing region.
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2012 19:34

Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's long-serving interior minister who stressed security and stability in a changing Middle East, has been buried in the Saudi city of Mecca.

He was believed to be 79 when his death, in the Swiss city of Geneva, was announced by Saudi authorities on June 16, 2012.

Prince Nayef spearheaded Saudi Arabia's crackdown on al-Qaeda's branch in the country after the 9/11 attacks in the United States and then rose to become next in line to the throne.

Over the years, the Saudi royal had earned a reputation as a traditionalist who opposed changes in the country's power structure.

He was believed to be closer than many of his brothers to the powerful Wahhabi religious establishment that gives legitimacy to the royal family, and he at times worked to give a freer hand to the religious police who enforce strict
social rules.

His elevation to crown prince in November 2011, after the death of his brother Sultan, had raised worries among liberals in the kingdom that, if he ever became king, he would have halted or even roll back reforms that King Abdullah had enacted.

Nayef, who was born in Taif, in western Saudi Arabia, was appointed governor of Riyadh when he was barely 20 years old, and held the post for only a short time before entering the interior ministry.

Reaction to 9/11

Nayef's work as interior minister has focused on stamping out what he perceived as threats to Saudi Arabia's stability. He reportedly controlled a security apparatus that employed more than 130,000 people.

"Nayef's power base is among the Islamists and the security services, which he uses to leverage himself against the other royals," said Toby Craig Jones, professor and Saudi Arabia expert at Rutgers University, in an earlier interview with Al Jazeera. "He has gone on the record as being ambivalent about elections, about political reform."

He built up his power in the kingdom though his fight against al-Qaeda and a broader campaign to prevent the growth of militancy among Saudis.

Nayef was popular with some Western government for efforts to combat al-Qaeda. His son, Muhammad bin Nayef, the deputy interior minister for counterterrorism, was targeted by a suicide bomber in 2009.

The 9/11 attacks at first strained ties between Saudi Arabia and its ally, the US. For months, the kingdom refused to acknowledge any of its citizens were involved in the suicide airline bombings, until finally Nayef became the first Saudi official to publicly confirm that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, in a February 2002 interview with The Associated Press.

In November 2002, Nayef told the Arabic-language Kuwaiti daily Assyasah that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks because they have benefited from subsequent criticism of Islam and Arabs. Nayef came under heavy criticism in
the US, especially because he was the man in charge of Saudi investigations into the attack.

Nayef responded with a fierce crackdown on al-Qaeda's branch in the country and took a leading role in combating the branch in Yemen as well.

Traditionalist ruler

By some accounts, Nayef considered political reformists a threat. Many leaders of the 2003 reform movement have been repeatedly detained. 

More recently, security services under Nayef's control arrested women who defied the country's ban on female drivers, and cracked down on Shia protests in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Nayef was said to have little sympathy for political Islamist groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, which he allegedly viewed as a threat to the ruling family's grip on power.

The anti-militant campaign also boosted Nayef's ties to the religious establishment, which he saw as a major tool in keeping stability and preventing the spread of violent al-Qaeda-style "jihadi" theology.

Nayef's interior ministry allied with clerics in a "rehabilitation" programme for detained militants, who went through intensive courses with clerics in "correct'' Islam to sway them away from violence. The programme brought praise from the United States.

Diplomats in Riyadh say Nayef has described education as the key to Saudi Arabia's future, echoing a line from Abdullah. They said he has said little about political reforms, women's rights or other contentious issues.

In the run-up to Saudi Arabia's 2005 municipal elections, it was Nayef who decided that women should not be allowed to vote.

Ten children

In 2009, Nayef promptly shut down a film festival in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, apparently because of conservatives' worry about the possibility of gender mixing in theatres and a general distaste towards film as immoral.

An October 2009 diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Riyadh, obtained by WikiLeaks, described Nayef as a "a conservative pragmatist convinced that security and stability are imperative."

It went on to describe him as "elusive, ambiguous, pragmatic, unimaginative, shrewd and outspoken".

Nayef, a soft-spoken, stocky man of medium build, was the 23rd son of Abdul-Aziz, the family patriarch who founded the kingdom in 1932 and had dozens of sons by various wives.

Nayef, a half-brother of Abdullah, was one of the five surviving members of the Sudairi seven, sons of Abdul-Aziz from his wife Hussa bint Ahmad Sudairi who, for decades, have held influential posts.

Before being appointed interior minister, he held the posts of Riyadh governor, deputy minister of interior and minister of state for internal affairs.

Nayef has 10 children from several wives.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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