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Crown Prince Sultan of Saudia Arabia died early Saturday in New York. His replacement will be the first picked under a new succession system.

The likely heir to Prince Sultan's position is Prince Nayef, a conservative and the kingdom's second-deputy prime minister, Reuters reports. While the decision will be King Abdullah's to make, the process of succession will work differently than it has in the past. Rather than occurring in secret, the new crown prince will be formally elected in a vote of the 34 branches of the founding Saud family.

The Allegiance Council was King Abdullah's innovation, and a gesture toward modernization, though Al Jazeera notes that Abdullah moved Prince Nayef into his current post in 2009, effectively cementing his position as third in line to the throne.

It is all quite complicated:

Though many believe the new successor will likely be Prince Nayef, Sultan's brother and the interior minister, the ultimate decision will come only after political machinations within a newly made council, a seal of approval from the country's religious leaders and a decision from King Abdullah, a half-brother, whose own assumption of the throne reportedly went against the wishes of Sultan and Nayef's branch.

King Abdullah named Sultan crown prince and made him deputy prime minister after assuming the throne on August 1, 2005, after the death of Sultan's brother, King Fahd. Fahd had made Abdullah his crown prince, a decision that reportedly irked those who wanted to see Sultan come next.

What about Nayef? He is, reports say, more conservative than either King Abdullah or the late Prince Sultan. And he was instrumental in helping some allied nations blunt internal uprisings over the last year, Al Jazeera reported.

He was reportedly deeply involved in Saudi Arabia's decision to send troops to put down a widespread, Shia-based protest movement in neighbouring Bahrain and made statements accusing Iran of instigating the movement.

Yet Nayef also approved a 2001 decision to issue identity cards to women for the first time. Previously, women were registered only on their father's or husband's identity card. Having their own enabled women to more easily make financial, legal and social transactions, and Nayef publicly supported the effort.

U.S. officials say they're confident that the transition will be orderly. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Sultan as a "strong leader and a good friend to the United States."

"Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is strong and enduring," she said, "and we will look forward to working with the leadership for many years to come." 

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