Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has named the kingdom's interior minister and his half brother as the second deputy prime minister, according to an announcement late Friday. According to the AP, the appointment indicates a succession order in the royal family, after four years of speculation over who will be the next-in-line once current heir, Prince Sultan, becomes king.
A royal statement carried by the official SPA news agency said Prince Nayef will take over the post, which is seen as a crown-prince-in-waiting.
The Saudi constitution does not require the king to appoint a second deputy prime minister but Friday's move is also important because it will allow Abdullah to travel abroad. With Sultan away in the United States on medical treatment, Nayef's appointment will ensure that when Abdullah goes to the Arab Summit in Qatar next week and later to the G-20 meetings, somebody will be in charge at home.
However, Nayef's appointment as second to the throne will still have to go through the Allegiance Association, formed by Abdullah in 2006 and composed of his brothers and some of his nephews. The Allegiance is expected to have the final say on who becomes crown prince after Sultan, who is in his 80s.
Nayef's appointment comes five months after Sultan, who is the first deputy prime minister, left for New York for medical tests and later surgery. Rumors have circulated about the health of Sultan, who is in his 80s, but senior Saudi officials have said he is doing better after surgery.
Under the monarchy, Abdullah also acts as prime minister.
But within hours of the announcement, another of Abdullah's half brothers, Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, issued a statement saying the appointment of Nayef, who is in his 70s, should not come at the expense of the Allegiance's authority and that the automaticity of Nayef becoming second-in-line should not be assumed.
Talal told The Associated Press that Nayef's appointment was just "an administrative nomination." "I am appealing to King Abdullah to have the royal court declare what is meant by this nomination and that it does not mean that he will be the crown prince," Talal said.