With the Death of Crown Prince Sultan, A Less Progressive Path for Saudi Arabia

On Thursday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia named Prince Nayef as the successor to Crown Prince Sultan and thus heir to the throne, after Sultan died in New York last week. This means that it is now almost certain that as long as Crown Prince Nayef manages to outlive King Abdullah, he will be the next ruler of Saudi Arabia. However he is not as popular as King Abdullah and is far more conservative than the current king. Should he take the throne he could hail a new and much more conservative Saudi Arabia that while stable, doesn’t provide the reforms needed in Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah has managed to slowly but surely push through a number of reforms to loosen some of the many rules that govern life in Saudi Arabia; one of the most notable reforms allows women to hold political office and vote in the next elections in 2015. Another reform created the Allegiance Council, a group of princes who select the next crown prince as an attempt to make the decision-making process more transparent in a country where nearly all political decisions are made within the tight-knit ruling family

Nayef, on the other hand, is much more conservative and very close to the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia. His control of the state security apparatus makes him a much less popular figure than the king. Should Nayef outlive Abdullah and reach the throne before the 2015 elections, it is thought that there will be significant changes to the voting reform. The campaign to finally allow Saudi women the right to drive is likely to be put down as well. Nayef is also strongly opposed to any relaxing of the stringent restrictions of the segregation of men and women in Saudi Arabia. 

As the Minister of Defence for nearly 50 years, Sultan gained most of his wealth from the many arms deals he brokered during his tenure. He also formed close ties with the United States, exchanging oil for U.S. military protection. Most of the major arms deals were with the U.S. as well, with the total expenditure on U.S. arms between 2005 and 2008 estimated at $11.2 billion, making Saudi Arabia the largest purchaser of American arms at the time. 

Under Nayef, it is expected that Saudi foreign policy will be more hawkish, however the shared concerns over Al-Qaeda in the Kingdom as well the threat of a nuclear Iran should remain the same. Nayef's open dislike for the Shiites may also play a role in how Iran is treated in the future, because of its large Shiite population and the current alleged plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador in Washington. Nayef was also the main figure in the Saudi intervention in the mainly Shi'a-lead Bahraini protests earlier this year.

At a time when the Saudi people are becoming more and more restless with the lack of jobs and antiquated rule, having a leader who will rule with an iron fist might not be enough to maintain the current stability of the country. Most of the stability rests on the ability of the government to produce handouts that can buy them time, a forced stability isn't a long-term solution to the problems in Saudi Arabia, merely a temporary fix.

However, while a ruler like Nayef may not be the ideal for the Saudi, he may be the best choice for Western interests in the country as a stable Saudi Arabia means an equally stable oil supply, but at the cost of the reforms and stronger future the Saudis deserve.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons