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Saudi Arabia has been a part-time ally of the U.S., crushing Al-Qaeda terrorists trying to overthrow the Royal Family in its own territory but promoting radical Islam outside of it. The U.S. has made the largest arms sale in history to the Saudis but these weapons could end up in dangerous hands, especially if Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud becomes king.
King Abdullah is 86 years old and in poor health. His designated successor, Crown Prince Sultan, is 82 and widely thought to have cancer. Aware that he and his successor could die in a short period of time, King Abdullah made Prince Nayef the Second Deputy Prime Minister in March of 2009, a position which is viewed as being the slot just below the successor. A cable from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh released by WikiLeaks is dated May 2009 and reports that “Crown Prince Sultan has been incapacitated by illness for at least (the) past year.” This means that Prince Nayef effectively becomes the king when Abdullah passes.
Prince Nayef is already extremely powerful. As Interior Minister, he oversees the security forces including the religious police that enforce the Sharia law on the country. He is also the chairman of the Supreme Committee on the Hajj, making him the manager of the most important trip for Muslims all around the world. He also exercises power over foreign policy, such as by leading the delegation to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit this month.
Nayef is understood to be an ally of the Wahhabist clerics and an opponent of the more reform-minded elements of the Royal Family like King Abdullah. His role in promoting extremism is so deep that in 2003, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. requesting that Nayef be sacked because of his “well-documented history of suborning terrorist financing and ignoring the evidence when it comes to investigating terrorist attacks on Americans.”
According to former CIA case officer Robert Baer’s book, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, Nayef bluntly said shortly after the 9/11 attacks that “the great power that controls the earth, now is an enemy of Arabs and Muslims.” He was also the head of the Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada and told a Saudi newspaper on November 29, 2002 that “It is impossible that 19 youths carried out the operation of September 11, or that Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda did that alone…I think [the Zionists] are behind these events.” In May 2004, he reiterated this belief, saying “Al-Qaeda is backed by Israel and Zionism.”
In his capacity as Interior Minister, Nayef has ruled with an iron fist. He is known to jail activists for reform and has power over the clergy that regularly spews radical Islamic doctrine. He is thought to be the one behind raids by the religious police on shopping malls, resorts and other institutions that are viewed as promoting moral corruption. On the other hand, there are some encouraging things about Nayef. If for no other reason than self-preservation, he has been effective in combating Al-Qaeda elements in the country. In November 2002, he said “All our problems come from the Muslim Brotherhood.” And in October 2008, he slammed the clergy for not combating extremism, saying “the imams have failed miserably.”
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