October 22, 2011
Sultan, who was 85 and had been suffering from colon cancer, was the kingdom’s deputy prime minister and the minister of defence and aviation. He underwent surgery in New York in February 2009 for an undisclosed illness and spent nearly a year abroad recuperating in the United States and at a palace in Agadir, Morocco.
The most likely candidate for the throne after Sultan is Prince Nayef, the powerful interior minister in charge of internal security forces. After Sultan fell ill the king gave Nayef an implicit nod in 2009 by naming him second deputy prime minister, traditionally the post of the third in line.
Anyone who rises to the throne is likely to maintain the kingdom’s close alliance with the United States. But there could be internal differences. Abdullah has been seen as a reformer, making incremental changes to improve the position of women and to modernise the kingdom despite some backlash from the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics who give the royal family the religious legitimacy needed to rule. Nayef is often seen as closer to the clerics.
Sultan was a central figure in the world’s top oil exporter who dominated defence policy and was long seen as a future king.
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