http://www.npr.org/2011/10/22/14160...=tw&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitterThe heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz Al Saud, died abroad Saturday after an illness, state TV said. The death of the prince, who is in his 80s, opens questions about the succession in the critical, oil-rich U.S. ally.
Sultan was the half-brother of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who has also been ailing and underwent back surgery last week.
The most likely candidate to replace Sultan as Abdullah's successor is Prince Nayef, the powerful interior minister in charge of internal security forces. After Sultan fell ill, the king gave Nayef — also his half-brother an implicit nod in 2009 by naming him second deputy prime minister, traditionally the post of the second in line to the throne.
Nayef has led an aggressive campaign against Islamic militants following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia — but he also has a reputation for close ties to the Saudi religious establishment. This could bring tensions within the Saudi leadership if Nayef is named crown prince, pitting those backing Abdullah's reform measures against those opposing any deviations to the kingdom's strict interpretations of Islam.
Nayef also maintains a hard line against regional rival, the Shiite power Iran, claiming earlier this year that Tehran was encouraging protests among Saudi Arabia's minority Shiites. Nayef was deeply involved in the kingdom's decision in March to send military forces into neighboring Bahrain to help crush pro-reform demonstrations led by tiny island nation's majority Shiites against its Sunni rulers — which Gulf Arab leaders accuse of having ties to Iran.
It would appear that the middle east is going to get a bit more dangerous when King Abdullah passes on.