* Promotion brings next generation to fore - author
* Interior role critical for ruling al-Saud family
* Interior ministry employs half million Saudis
RIYADH, Nov 5 Saudi Arabia appointed Prince
Mohammed bin Nayef as Interior Minister on Monday, marking a
significant move towards a new generation of leaders from the
kingdom's ruling family.
Prince Mohammed, a son of the late veteran Interior Minister
Prince Nayef, who died in June, is best known as Saudi Arabia's
long-time security chief and has garnered the praise of Western
countries for his role in the campaign against al Qaeda.
"This brings forward the promotion of the next generation to
the succession," said Robert Lacey, author of "Inside the
Kingdom". Prince Mohammed was born in 1959.
The appointment as Interior Minister lifts Prince Mohammed,
who was already a deputy interior minister, into a critical role
for the ruling al-Saud family and one that has until now only
been held by the current ruling generation.
Despite his role in the security hierarchy, analysts say
Prince Mohammed is in tune with King Abdullah's cautious social
and economic reforms partly aimed at making Saudi society more
open to outside influence.
He replaces his uncle, Prince Ahmed, who was only appointed
as Interior Minister in June. "Prince Ahmed is relieved of his
position as Interior Minister at his own request and Prince
Mohammed bin Nayef is appointed," said a royal decree carried on
King Abdullah, the late Prince Nayef, Crown Prince Salman
and Prince Ahmed are all sons of Saudi Arabia's founder King
Abdulaziz who was known as Ibn Saud. Analysts said the departure
of Prince Ahmed meant he was less likely to become king.
Unlike in European monarchies, the Saudi line of succession
has so far passed along a line of brothers and is determined
within the ruling family who weigh both the seniority and
capability of leading candidates.
Beside Prince Mohammed, analysts have pointed to Mecca
Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, Eastern Province Governor
Prince Mohammed bin Fahd and Saudi Arabian National Guard chief
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as leading next-generation princes.
"This is an excellent appointment of someone who has been on
the frontlines of the campaign against terrorism both within
Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East," said Robert
Jordan, the former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 2001 to 2003.
The Interior Ministry employs more than half a million Saudi
Arabians and runs the police, civil defence, domestic
intelligence, prisons, the border services and the kingdom's
sophisticated security forces.
"Usually the one who comes next in the succession has to
come from a senior job in the system. Now the Interior Ministry
role is occupied by a grandson of Ibn Saud. That automatically
puts him in a good position when that time comes," a Saudi
analyst who asked to remain anonymous said.
A March 2009 U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks
described Prince Mohammed as already being the de facto Interior
Minister and said he was "held in high regard by Saudi King
Abdullah... and well respected by the Saudi populace".
Although Prince Mohammed's father, the late Prince Nayef,
was seen as a staunch conservative with close ties to clerics of
the kingdom's Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, his son has also
built relations with more liberal Saudis.
"I would assume he's from the second generation of princes
who are more receptive to ideas of reform. But he is good at
making everybody think he is in their camp. That's what makes a
successful politician," Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi said.
Best known inside Saudi Arabia for spearheading the campaign
to crush an al Qaeda uprising from 2003-06, Prince Mohammed
narrowly survived an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber
sent by the militant group in 2009.
Embassy cables over several years revealed that Prince
Mohammed worked very closely with U.S. security officials to
mitigate the danger of an attack by al Qaeda or Iran against
"He is perceived as progressive, efficient and
result-oriented," Saudi columnist Hossein Shobokshi said.
A main element of his strategy to rout al Qaeda from the
kingdom was the introduction of "rehabilitation centres" where
former militants discussed their views with traditionalist
Wahhabi clerics and American-trained psychiatrists.
Although some graduates from the centres have since
re-emerged in Yemen fighting with al Qaeda, Prince Mohammed
himself described the true role of the centres as winning over
Saudi public opinion.
"(Prince Mohammed) shared (with us)...that if the Saudi
people saw that the government had offered these extremists a
helping hand which they slapped away, instead of a clenched fist
used against them, then their families, tribes and the Saudi
nation as a whole would view the government as 'the benefactor'
and these unrepentant extremists as 'deviants'," the U.S.
embassy cable said.