33-year-old Saudi prince named interior minister
Dubai- The reshuffle in the Saudi government, in which Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz was promoted to crown prince, was hailed by the kingdom’s media as a new beginning. This was evident by the headline “The strong and young kingdom” in the Okaz newspaper, a reference to a new generation of Saudi royals placed in key government posts.
One of the main announcements was the appointment of Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, 33, as interior minister, a portfolio tasked with maintaining Saudi Arabia’s internal security. He is the youngest person to serve as the country’s interior minister.
Prince Abdulaziz will be in charge of haj security — one of the kingdom’s most important jobs — working with the Ministry of Haj to guarantee pilgrims’ safety and the non-politicisation of the event, which attracts millions of Muslims each year. This year’s haj takes place from August 30-September 4.
Prince Abdulaziz is the eldest son of Eastern Province Governor Prince Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz. He graduated from the kingdom’s Dhahran Private School. He holds a law degree from King Saud University. His official biography states he spent several years in the private sector before serving on the Supreme Committee for the Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Award for the Prophetic Sunnah and Contemporary Islamic Studies.
Prince Abdulaziz has held several government posts, including adviser to former Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz. After King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became king in 2015, Prince Abdulaziz was appointed adviser to the Royal Court and later adviser in the Defence Ministry.
Prince Abdulaziz has large shoes to fill as interior minister, as he is replacing his uncle and former crown prince. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz was known for initiating a successful anti-terrorism campaign.
During his time as interior minister, Prince Mohammed led a crackdown on the Saudi branch of al-Qaeda after the terrorist group began a deadly campaign within the kingdom’s borders. He was injured in an assassination attempt in 2009 when an al-Qaeda operative offered to surrender but then set off a bomb near the prince.
Before leaving his position as interior minister, which he had held since 2012, Prince Mohammed was involved in a similar campaign against the Saudi branch of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Despite the Interior Ministry’s track record, analysts stressed that challenges remain.
“It is true that the kingdom has succeeded in combating terrorism and establishing security and stability since the start of events over a decade ago,” Saudi analyst Emad al-Mudaifer said.
“However, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving security on the intellectual level and eradicating radical and extremist ideas and the groups [that] follow them.”
Prince Abdulaziz may not have his uncle’s experience in tackling terrorism; however, observers said they expected the new interior minister to utilise his uncle’s knowledge and expertise.
The war on terrorism and extremism is among the immediate challenges for Prince Abdulaziz, considering threats from al-Qaeda and ISIS. Saudi officials foiled a plot targeting the Grand Mosque in Mecca days after Prince Abdulaziz was appointed interior minister.
Authorities said an attacker set off a bomb near the Grand Mosque after a shootout with police, killing himself. Subsequently, the Interior Ministry arrested five suspects believed to be involved in the foiled attack. Ministry spokesman Major-General Mansour al- Turki said the incident was not the first of its kind.
Another issue for the interior minister will be the Eastern Province city of Qatif, which has seen sporadic unrest among its Shia population since 2011. Attacks in the area on security personnel, Saudi officials said, have been sponsored by Iran. Qatif has also been the site of numerous terrorist attacks by ISIS on the Shia community, including the targeting of mosques.
Diplomats and analysts said they were eager to learn Prince Abdulaziz’s positions on the issues facing Saudi Arabia. Reconciling social change with the younger generation while preserving the traditions of the past will be a factor, they said.