King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is dead, at 82 or 84 depending on which obit you read. It doesn't matter, since the king was in a vegetative state since he suffered a stroke several years ago. His death was less the point than what comes afterwards: Crown Prince Abdullah has been named king, but the House of Saud is divided and analysts wonder what the new king can do as he faces powerful rivals in Defense Minister Prince Sultan, the new crown prince, and Interior Minister Prince Nayef.
Maneuvering in recent weeks suggested the king was fading (if not dead). It was recently announced that the ambassador in Washington, Bandar bin Sultan, Prince Sultan's son, would be returning to the kingdom to take up a post–some have suggested a senior intelligence post–while Prince Turki Al-Faisal, son of the late King Faisal, replaced him in Washington. Abdullah, Sultan and Nayef are all old men, near or past 80, so that, as in the U.S.S.R. during the mid-1980s, the changeovers might be swift in the coming years. No doubt the myriad sons are looking to be in a position of influence for that time.
Meanwhile, in Sudan, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, John Garang, was killed in a helicopter crash yesterday. This comes at the worst possible moment, since Garang had only recently taken up his position as Sudanese vice-president, following a long-awaited peace deal between the Khartoum government and the largely Christian and Animist South. Violence has broken out in the Sudanese capital, with protestors accusing the government of being behind the helicopter crash.