Riyadh: Saudi Arabia`s King Abdullah has appointed the second deputy prime minister to oversee the hajj pilgrimage, the state news agency reported on Saturday, a day after doctors ordered rest for the ruler due to a slipped disc.
Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, also the Interior Minister, is to oversee the annual hajj, when some two million Muslim pilgrims will gather in the holy city of Mecca.
King Abdullah, who took charge in the key US ally in 2005, is estimated to be 86 or 87-years-old.
Prince Nayef, thought to be about 76, was appointed second deputy prime minister in 2009, a move which analysts said places him in a strong position to become crown prince or king one day.
Nayef, a half-brother of the king and full-brother of the crown prince, has been in Mecca this week, supervising security arrangements for the hajj.
Crown Prince Sultan, the king`s half-brother who is also in his 80s, has been abroad for unspecified health treatment for much of the last two years and diplomats in Riyadh say he has not resumed full duties. He is outside the country after leaving for what was described in August as a holiday in Morocco.
Political stability in the monarchy is of global concern. The Gulf Arab state controls more than a fifth of the world`s crude reserves, is a vital US ally in the region, a major holder of dollar assets and home to the biggest Arab bourse.
Analysts say the king`s appointment of Nayef to the post could avert a power vacuum in the event of serious health problems afflicting the king and crown prince.