Heir to the Saudi Throne Passes

Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz al Saud, heir to the Saudi throne, passed away on Saturday from an undisclosed illness. Sultan was the half-brother of the reigning King Abdullah, whose health has also been questioned as of late. His death raises new questions regarding the line of succession in Saudi Arabia.

For the first time, it is possible that the king will place the decision in the hands of the Allegiance Council. Although the king has traditionally named his successor, King Abdullah created the Council as part of a series of reforms to modernize the political process.

Although the decision is unlikely to affect Saudi Arabia’s relations with the U.S., it could have large ramifications internally. Prince Nayef, the likely candidate for succession, stands in stark contrast to current King. While Abdullah has been seen as a reformer, granting women the right to vote in the upcoming elections in 2015, Prince Nayef has held close ties to the ultraconservative Wahhabi clerics.

Prince Nayef is also known for his hard stance against rival Iran, and his appointment may foreshadow a renewed level of tension in the Middle East.

Prince Sultan was 85-years-old when he passed away. Although his cause of death has remained undisclosed, according to a leaked cable from 2010, Sultan had been receiving treatment for colon cancer since 2009.

–Thomas L. Hauch