By Matthew Martin, MEED Banking and Finance Editor
The motto of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and de facto ruler since 2009, was reportedly "no to change, yes to development". With nearly four decades of influence over Saudi politics, his death on 16 June raises speculation whether the attitude towards reform will change and whether the pace of reform will also accelerate.
Prince's Nayef's motto will prove pervasive though. The next line of leaders in the kingdom, who are all brothers of Prince Nayef, are likely to demonstrate similar conservatism and pragmatism. The more significant question raised by his death is how the power transition to the grandsons of Saudi Arabia's founder, rather than the sons, will be handled and what impact this will have on the pace of reform.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud acted quickly to replace Prince Nayef, appointing Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a half-brother, to replace him as crown prince, and another brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, to take over as interior minister.
Princes Salman and Ahmed are sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdulaziz al-Saud, and both are sons of his favourite wife Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi. The seven sons of this marriage, known as the Sudairi seven, have been some of the most influential figures in Saudi politics, and Prince Ahmed is the group's youngest member, at 71.
In reality, neither will be able to fill Prince Nayef's shoes immediately. After becoming second deputy prime minister in 2009, he had taken on increasing responsibility for both domestic and foreign policy, becoming de facto ruler as a result of the poor health of the king and then Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
Following the outbreak of the Arab uprisings, Prince Nayef's influence grew stronger. Already responsible for the domestic crackdown on Islamist terror group Al-Qaeda in the wake of the attacks on the US in September 2001, Prince Nayef showed increased hawkishness in his handling of political protests around the region over the past 18 months, and in dealings with Iran.
Prince Nayef had also managed to combine a close relationship with the religious establishment with a pragmatism evidenced in issuing Saudi women with identity cards for the first time, no longer requiring them to be simply registered under their father or husband.
The need to balance the interests of clerics and liberals has long been an obstacle to reform in the country. The death of Prince Nayef is perceived as a loss for the clerical establishment, but in reality, the influence of conservatives stretches beyond having the ear of just one man.
"It is premature to think that the role of the religious establishment will be downgraded significantly in the immediate future," says Raza Agha, senior economist at the UK's Royal Bank of Scotland. "Their links into the power circles in Saudi Arabia are deeper than just one individual."
On foreign policy, both Princes Salman and Ahmed are expected to continue a hawkish stance towards Iran, echoed also by King Abdullah. They fear Iranian influence in stirring up the protest movement in Bahrain, which also inspires their own restive Shia population. Support for regional monarchies such as Jordan and Bahrain will continue. Suspicion of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq will remain, where sectarianism is again viewed through the prism of Iranian influence.
If neither Prince Salman nor Prince Ahmed, both in their 70s, will produce a significant change in Saudi Arabia's glacial reform process, it will be left to the next generation to pick up the mantle.
The elevation of Prince Salman has been widely expected since the death of Prince Sultan in late 2011.