Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Prince Naif was the personification of stability | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz was assassinated in the winter of 1975, I had recently joined the magazine “The Arab Week”. I, just like the rest of the world, was shocked by the news. The magazine’s edition was on the verge of publication, in accordance with its weekly schedule, but we sent a photographer to Riyadh anyway, to send back anything that may be appropriate regarding the incident. He returned the next day with a set of “general” images of King Faisal’s funeral; for it was too crowded for him to get any closer to take pictures.

He showed us the images he had taken in a hurry, and among them I found an image of ordinary Saudis rushing with great strides to the farewell ceremony. This picture seemed more like an oil painting than a photograph, and we printed it along with the title: “Continuity”. The title and picture occurred to me because the Kingdom was witnessing a fateful incident, and yet no one was resigned to depression no matter how dire the situation was, and the Saudi’s continuity and resilience seemed reassuring no matter how difficult the times were. For me these sentiments embodied Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz; a man of stability and not just security, and as he always stressed, a man of development, not just change.

Development is a statesman’s duty, but there is no room for adventurism when it comes to people’s stability, and for the Interior Minister there is one task, to protect this stability. During Prince Naif’s era Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Ummah encountered the most difficult of crises, but he exercised the utmost firmness and the maximum tolerance at the same time. He punished when it was clear that only punishment would work, and at other times he would resort to compensation, in accordance with the principle “And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another”. [Surat Al-‘An’am, 6:164]

Some people painted a somewhat hardline image of him, but Prince Naif was a man of vision and righteousness. He used to say proudly: He who has been accused should be referred to the judiciary, he who is innocent should be spared injustice, and he who repents should be embraced.

He was a statesman, above all else, in the sense of his broad vision, mind, and heart. Saudi Arabia’s internal situation did not prevent him from connecting the Kingdom externally to the wider world, and he looked at his country’s relationships consciously and realistically, regardless of his own feelings or views. He was not concerned with his hardline image as much as he was committed to his principles, tying security to justice. Yet hiding modestly behind these principles was an intellectual character who was a great reader and observer of world events.

For a long time, and in depth, he contemplated many Arab issues. He resented scenes of injustice, often repeating: “what God-given right do they have to do this”. When Arab crises emerged, Prince Naif wished leaders to show “wisdom not severity”, and at Arab interior minister conferences he always voted to check the facts first rather than launch investigations, believing that security was not achieved through constraints.

The Kingdom will miss a great man and a cornerstone of the state, and the Arabs will remember his contributions to security, especially at this difficult and bloody stage.