By Arab News
By P.K. Abdul Ghafour
Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, died Saturday outside the Kingdom following a prolonged illness, the Royal Court announced. He was 80. The late prince’s funeral will take place Tuesday.
“With deep sorrow and distress, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announces the demise of his brother Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who passed away early Saturday morning,” the Royal Court said in a brief statement.
The Royal Court commended Prince Sultan’s contributions toward ensuring the progress and prosperity of the Kingdom. “While conveying its condolences to the Saudi people, we pray to the Almighty that He may bless the late prince with his mercy and forgiveness and admit him to His Paradise and give him the best of rewards for the contributions he made for his religion and nation,” it said.
The Royal Court said the funeral prayer for Prince Sultan, who was known as Sultan Al-Khair (goodness), would be held at Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh Tuesday after the Asr prayer. Prominent world leaders and Arab heads of state are expected to attend the ceremony.
Prince Sultan, a half-brother of King Abdullah, served as the Kingdom’s defense minister for nearly five decades. A humanitarian prince, Sultan was a great Muslim leader and worked for the success of Arab and Muslim causes. He represented Saudi Arabia at UN General Assembly meetings and Arab and Islamic summits several times.
Sultan had been in the United States since mid-June for medical treatment. Before that he had spent about a year in the US and Morocco for treatment and returned to the Kingdom on Nov. 11, 2009 to a rapturous welcome.
Prince Naif, second deputy premier and minister of interior, is second in line to become the crown prince. Prince Naif, half-brother of King Abdullah, was named second deputy premier in March 2009.
King Faisal assigned Sultan the defense portfolio in 1962 and in 1982, his brother King Fahd appointed him second deputy premier. Sultan was educated in the Royal Court and was clearly on the rise when named governor of Riyadh in 1947. He had also served as minister of agriculture and transport.
As defense and aviation minister, and inspector general, Sultan oversaw a major buildup of the Kingdom’s armed forces and took Saudi Arabian Airlines to greater heights. He presided over a major military operation to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation in 1991 with the support of US-led allied forces.
Messages of condolences poured in from world leaders, expressing their shock and sorrow and sense of loss. The Saudi king received calls from Jordan’s King Abdallah and King Muhammad of Morocco. The Jordanian leader said he was shocked to hear the sad news. “Jordan, which holds Prince Sultan in high esteem, commends his services to the Kingdom and Arab and Islamic causes,” he said. The king opened a World Economic Forum in the country’s Dead Sea resort town with a minute of silence in the late prince’s honor.
Kuwait said it would mark the prince’s death with three days of official mourning.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a trip to the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, said the prince would be “missed,” stressing Washington’s enduring ties with the Kingdom. “I offer my deepest condolences for this loss to King Abdullah and the Saudi people,” she said. “He will be missed.”
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “saddened” to hear of Prince Sultan’s death. “He had many friends in this country, and we have all benefited from his wisdom and expertise in international affairs over his long years of service,” the prime minister said.
Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, wrote to King Abdullah, his Clarence House office said. “The Prince of Wales sent a personal letter of condolence to the king of Saudi Arabia expressing his deep sadness at the news,” a spokesman said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the death of Prince Sultan a great loss to the Palestinian cause. “With the death of Crown Prince Sultan, the Kingdom and our Islamic and Arab nation lost an outstanding leader, a wise statesman who devoted his life for the service of his homeland, religion and the humanity,” Abbas said in a letter to King Abdullah.
“We will remember with gratitude, pride and appreciation the deceased’s positions, commitment and support toward our people by all means and on all political, material and moral levels,” Abbas said.
Abbas added: “With his death, Palestine lost a dear and a strong supporter.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad also sent condolences to King Abdullah.
From Iran, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi sent condolences, expressing “sympathy to his counterpart and the deceased’s next of kin,” media reported.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she had learned of the prince’s death “with great sadness” and offered her “sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to the Kingdom and its people for the great loss.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “He served the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for many years with great dignity and dedication. His contribution to the prosperity and development of the Kingdom will long be remembered.”
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said: “Pakistan has been deprived of a great friend.” In a separate message, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said the people of Pakistan joined him in extending their heartfelt condolences by sharing the grief of the Saudi royal family.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) described him as “one of the great sagacious leaders of the Islamic Ummah, who had devoted his generosity-marked life in the service of his nation and the Islamic Ummah.” OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu sent a cable of condolences to King Abdullah.