| RIYADH, June 16
RIYADH, June 16 Crown Prince Nayef, who died on
Saturday, built the formidable security force which crushed an
al Qaeda revolt in Saudi Arabia and with it any dissent against
his family's century-old grip on the world's leading oil
To liberals, Nayef, a son of the state's founder, was the
forbidding face of a conservative establishment that opposed any
real moves toward democracy or greater women's rights, oversaw
the fearsome religious police and for years headed an Interior
Ministry which imprisoned political activists without charge.
But former diplomats, local journalists and members of the
ruling house described him as a more flexible man in private,
who survived more than three decades at the centre of a Saudi
political system in which dozens of uncles, half-brothers, sons
and nephews jostle for influence and fortune.
"Nayef is widely seen as a hardline conservative who at best
is lukewarm to King Abdullah's reform initiatives," said a 2009
U.S. diplomatic cable about the prince, who was in his late 70s.
"However, it would be more accurate to describe him as a
conservative pragmatist convinced that security and stability
are imperative to preserve al-Saud rule and ensure prosperity
for Saudi citizens," said the cable, published by WikiLeaks.
Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York in 2001, Nayef
infuriated Washington, a close ally and big buyer of its oil, by
dismissing the initial reports that Saudi citizens carried out
the attacks. It turned out 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.
That incident gave him a reputation in some quarters as
anti-Western, but in fact Western diplomats were generally
impressed with the way his interior ministry suppressed an al
Qaeda bombing campaign inside Saudi Arabia a few years later.
AUSTERE DESERT KINGDOM
His main concern was battling al Qaeda in the kingdom and in
neighbouring Yemen and maintaining a strong barrier against
Shi'ite arch-enemy, Iran, according to U.S. embassy assessments.
"Like many of his compatriots, though not King Abdullah,
Nayef displays signs of personal prejudice against the Shi'ites,
and has taken an increasingly hard line in dealing with Shi'ite
unrest throughout the kingdom," said the WikiLeaks cable.
"Some Shi'ite activists see Nayef as the source of most
sectarian discrimination," it added.
Nayef was regarded as closer than many of his brothers to
the hardline Wahhabi religious establishment whose support had
been vital to his father's establishment of the state in the
early 20th century. As a result, he enjoyed particular favour
from the clergy who provide legitimacy to the royal house.
Nayef's elevation to crown prince, next in line to the
throne, after the death of his brother Sultan last year had
alarmed moderates and liberals who feared that if he succeeded
as king he would stop reforms his brother Abdullah has started.
Like the rest of his family, personal details of the
prince's life were rarely confirmed officially, or left vague.
Nayef was born in around 1933 in Taif, the mountain town
where the royal court would annually retreat to each year from
the stifling summer heat of the desert capital Riyadh and the
Red Sea port of Jeddah, the kingdom's second city.
Saudi Arabia had only a year earlier come into being as a
state. Nayef's father King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, over the course
of the preceding 30 years of warfare and diplomacy, had united
the Bedouin tribes behind his vision of a pure Islamic state. He
conquered much of the Arabian peninsula, securing his family's
control over Islam's holiest sites at Mecca and Medina.
Growing up in the royal court of the 1930s and 1940s, Nayef
is of the last generation of Saudi leaders who knew the austere
desert kingdom before the first flush of oil wealth changed it
beyond all recognition and let royal relatives live spendthrift
lives abroad in the luxury stores and fleshpots of the West.
A son of Ibn Saud by his favourite wife Hassa bint Ahmed
al-Sudairi, Nayef was one of seven of her sons who were groomed
young for high office and formed their own power bloc within an
extended family that included nearly 40 other half-brothers.
Known as the "Sudairi seven", Hassa's sons also included
Fahd, who was later king, the late Prince Sultan, Prince Salman,
the current defence minister and likely successor as crown
prince, and Prince Ahmed, who was deputy interior minister.
Nayef's own son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a well regarded
deputy interior minister in the current administration, headed
Saudi efforts to root al Qaeda from the kingdom.
Named governor of Riyadh aged only 20, Nayef impressed his
father and went on to become interior minister in 1975 where he
was soon known as an ally of the Wahhabi clerics who had run the
palace school of his childhood.
It was this ministerial role that came to define Nayef by
giving him responsibility for protecting the kingdom from
internal threats - most frequently from Islamist militants.
"Given his paramount concern with maintaining stability,
Nayef's instincts tend towards concessions to religious demands,
especially on cultural-social issues," said the leaked U.S.
appraisal of him in 2009. "This is sometimes misinterpreted as
opposition to reform, but more likely stems from a desire to
balance competing social forces."
As the man to whom regional governors answered, Nayef
personally handled the petitions of individual Saudi citizens on
a daily basis, cultivating a network of supporters across a
kingdom where tribal and regional ties still matter.
Despite his fierce reputation atop the internal security
forces, Nayef was said by princes to be among the kinder members
of the al-Saud dynasty, treating nephews and nieces of the
younger generation with more consideration than his peers.
That avuncular side to his character contrasted with the
image he sometimes showed to foreign diplomats, who described
him as prickly and, in the U.S. appraisal, stiff, slow and shy,
despite occasional flashes of "impish" humour.
The domestic intelligence service, the Mabahith which is
under Interior Ministry command, has over the years targeted
Islamists, liberals and Shi'ites who sought to organise protests
or petition the king on democratic reform.
A prominent Saudi rights group, the Saudi Civil and
Political Rights Association, in January issued a statement
decrying Nayef for failing to investigate allegations of human
rights abuses by the ministry.
He had been ill for some time and died in a Swiss hospital.
He will buried in the holy city of Mecca on Sunday.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and