A dispute over Saudi Arabia's royal succession burst into the open yesterday, revealing a power struggle in which one of the most senior princes in the oil-rich kingdom is reported to have disappeared. The prospect of instability in a country that is not only the world's largest oil exporter but also a key Western ally at the heart of the Middle East will cause serious concern in Washington, London and beyond.
Rumours are rife over the position of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, 60, son of the heir to the Saudi throne, who has not been seen in public for weeks. Prince Bandar is better known abroad than almost any other member of the Saudi royal family, not only for his extravagant lifestyle, but because of his daring foreign policy initiatives during 22 years as the Saudi ambassador in Washington, where he played an important role after 9/11 and during two Gulf wars. His absence from public life comes at a sensitive time in Saudi Arabia: his father, Crown Prince Sultan, is gravely ill with cancer, throwing the succession to King Abdullah into question.