Saudi Arabia’s King Salman yesterday appointed his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince, placing him firmly as first-in-line to the throne and removing now-former Saudi minister of the interior Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the nation’s counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington from the royal line of succession.
In a series of royal decrees carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the monarch stripped bin Nayef, who had been positioned to inherit the throne, from his title as crown prince and from his powerful position as the nation’s interior minister overseeing security.
The newly announced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman already oversees a vast portfolio as defense minister and head of an economic council tasked with overhauling the country’s economy. He had previously been the second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long suspected his rise to power under his father’s reign might also accelerate his ascension to the throne.
The young prince was little known to Saudis and outsiders before Salman became king in January 2015. He had previously been in charge of his father’s royal court when Salman was the crown prince.
The Saudi monarch, who holds near absolute powers, quickly awarded his son expansive powers, to the surprise of many within the royal family who are more senior and more experienced than Mohammed bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS.
The royal decree issued yesterday stated that “a majority” of senior royal members from the so-called Allegiance Council supported the recasting of the line of succession.
Saudi Arabia’s state TV said 31 out of 34 of the council’s members voted in favor of the changes.
The Allegiance Council is a body made up of the sons and prominent grandsons of the founder of the Saudi state, late King Abdul-Aziz, who vote to pick the king and crown prince from among themselves.
Over the weekend, the king had issued a decree restructuring Saudi Arabia’s system for prosecutions that stripped Mohammed bin Nayef of longstanding powers overseeing criminal investigations and instead ordered that a newly-named Office of Public Prosecution and prosecutor report directly to the monarch.
The prince had appeared to be slipping from the public eye as his nephew, Mohammed bin Salman, embarked on major overseas visits, including a trip to the White House to meet US President Donald Trump in March.
That visit to Washington helped lay the foundation for Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month, which marked Trump’s first overseas visit and which was promoted heavily by the kingdom as proof of its weight in the region and wider Muslim world.
The warm ties forged between Riyadh and Washington under the Trump administration may have helped accelerate Mohammed bin Salman’s ascension as crown prince.
Despite his ambitions, which include overhauling the kingdom’s economy away from its reliance on oil, the prince has faced failures and strong criticism for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which he oversees as defense minister.
The newly-minted crown prince also raised eyebrows when he ruled out any chance of dialogue with Iran.
In remarks aired on Saudi TV last month, Mohammed bin Salman framed the tensions with Iran in sectarian terms, and said it is Iran’s goal “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine.
He also vowed to take “the battle” to Iran.
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