By Arab News
By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
US President Barack Obama congratulated Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Friday on the selection of Prince Naif as crown prince, noting the prince’s counterterrorism record.
“I congratulate King Abdullah and the Saudi people on the selection of Prince Naif as crown prince. We in the United States know and respect him for his strong commitment to combating terrorism and supporting regional peace and security,” Obama said in a statement.
“The United States looks forward to continuing our close partnership with Crown Prince Naif in his new capacity as we strengthen the deep and longstanding friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” Obama said.
King Abdullah issued a decree late Thursday night naming Prince Naif, 78, as crown prince and asking him to immediately assume the title and privileges of his post, said a royal court statement.
“As informed by the chairman of the Allegiance Commission, we have named Prince Naif as the crown prince and we have decreed to appoint him as deputy prime minister and interior minister,” King Abdullah said in a statement.
In a widely anticipated move, the naming of the crown prince was done at the end of the three-day mourning following the death of Prince Sultan.
“King Abdullah issued the royal order and notified the chief and members of the Allegiance Commission of his choice late on Thursday,” said an official statement released by the Ministry of Interior here Friday.
“Earlier, King Abdullah held a meeting with the chief and members of the Allegiance Commission at his palace in Riyadh,” said the Interior Ministry statement posted on its website. Later, King Abdullah instructed other princes as well as senior Saudi officials to pledge allegiance to Crown Prince Naif, the statement added.
Crown Prince Naif will receive pledges of allegiance from Saudi citizens at Al-Hakam Palace in Riyadh after Asr prayer on Saturday. In provincial capitals, governors of provinces will receive the declaration of allegiance on behalf of the crown prince.
The heir apparent was not named immediately after Prince Sultan’s death last Saturday in a New York hospital. Prince Naif has run the affairs of the government for extended periods in recent years, during the absence of both King Abdullah and Prince Sultan. “Our country is gifted by the selection of Prince Naif as crown prince, for which he was seen as the obvious choice,” said Bakr H. Khoshaim, a prominent member of the Shoura Council.
Khoshaim said: “Prince Naif deserved the position after all the achievements he made in different fields, especially in the Interior Ministry.”
“I wish Crown Prince Naif all success,” said the Shoura member, while congratulating the nation, the government and the people of Saudi Arabia.
Prince Naif has been the main source of strength behind the significant campaign against Al-Qaeda, which the country’s security forces succeeded in quelling after attacks in 2003 and 2006, said a political analyst, without giving his name. Crown Prince Naif is well known for his strong command and connections with powerful Saudi and Arab institutions, he added.
Prince Naif was the third highest-ranking official in the government before being named crown prince. Born in Taif in 1933, Prince Naif is the 23rd son of the founder of the Kingdom, late King Abdul Aziz. He was educated in the princes’ school, in addition to receiving instructions from his father, the royal court and eminent religious leaders.
Crown Prince Naif began his political career as deputy governor, and later governor of Riyadh region during the lifetime of his father King Abdul Aziz. During the reign of King Faisal, Prince Naif was appointed deputy minister of interior in 1970. He was appointed minister of state for internal affairs in 1975 during the reign of King Khaled and later in the same year he was named as the Kingdom’s minister of interior, a position in which he continues to serve the nation. In 2009, King Abdullah also appointed him second deputy premier.
The position of second deputy prime minister, held by Prince Naif since 2009, is usually awarded to the prince who is considered to be third in line to the throne. Prince Naif is also the supervisor general of the Saudi Committee for the Al Quds Intifada, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees. He heads the Supreme Council on Information, which oversees the media and regulates the Internet. He chairs the Supreme Haj Committee.
The appointment of Prince Naif expands his influence into all corners of Saudi domestic policy and allows him to partake in all the affairs of the state including the development of foreign policy.
Prince Naif has chaired many Cabinet meetings while King Abdullah and late Crown Prince Sultan were away for health reasons. He is popularly known as a champion of the poor, Muslims and those associated with Islamic charity. He was in the news in August this year, when a UK court ordered the newspaper, “The Independent” to pay Prince Naif libel damages over an article which accused him of ordering police chiefs to shoot and kill unarmed demonstrators during this year’s Arab uprisings.
The Independent Print Ltd. and its Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk both offered their “sincere apologies” at London’s High Court recently, saying that there was no truth to the claim. Lawyer Rupert Earle said his client Prince Naif would donate the damages, which he described only as “substantial,” to a charity. The newspaper said allegations that the prince had ordered police to fire on protesters were published “in good faith” but accepted they had turned out to be untrue and based on a forgery.