Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal returned to the country Friday after spending three months abroad convalescing, after he underwent surgery in August to remove an obstruction in his intestines. Al-Faisal told the Saudi Press Agency upon his return:
I especially thank and appreciate members of the royal family and the nobel Saudi people who overwhelmed me with their deep, generous feeling, via phone, telegraph and social media websites which I followed with much appreciation, and to the medical team at King Faisal Specialized Hospital in Jeddah who oversaw my health situation.
The reference to social media is interesting and probably the first of its kind in statements made by a senior Saudi official like Prince Saud al-Faisal.
The 72-year-old is is one of the world’s longest-serving foreign ministers. He was appointed appointed in March 1975, shortly after the assassination of his father the late King Faisal. But the veteran minister has suffered from health issues like back problem over the years. He has previously undergone surgery in the US.
After his recent health issues, some Gulf observers like UAE-based columnist Sultan al-Qassemi suggested it is time for al-Faisal to retire.
I don’t understand why they don’t let him retire & rest – Saudi: Foreign minister, 72 recovering in Los Angeles goo.gl/pZEYQ
— سلطان سعود القاسمي (@SultanAlQassemi) September 10, 2012
Al-Faisal health issues have raised questions over who might succeed him as foreign minister. Saudi Arabia is expected to have a cabinet shuffle in February, but it is probably unlikely that it would include a change in major ministries like foreign affairs.
However, it said that the King’s son Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah is being groomed to succeed al-Faisal one day.
Prince Abdulaziz has worked in the National Guard and served as an adviser to his father when he was Crown Prince in the 1990s. In recent years he served as a mediator in Syria and Lebanon, and in July 2011 he was appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs. Since then, he has assumed an increasingly visible role, including representing Saudi Arabia at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran last August.