In a shocking development, on Wednesday Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman (his eldest son from his third wife) as crown prince, placing him as first-in-line to the throne and removing his nephew, 57-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef - the country’s counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington - from the royal line of succession, relieving him of his post as Interior Minister, and stripping him from all his titles.
Bin Salman already controls the Kingdom's defense, oil and economic policies; today's announcement merely consolidates his power. He was also credited with arranging Trump's "successful" trip to Riyadh.
Al Arabiya television reported that the promotion of the prince was approved by the kingdom's Allegiance Council with 31 of 34 members approving, and that the king had called for a public pledging of loyalty to Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday evening in Mecca. The surprise announcement follows 2-1/2 years of already major changes in Saudi Arabia, which stunned allies in 2015 by launching a war in Yemen, cutting old energy subsidies and in 2016 proposing partly privatizing state oil company Aramco.
As AP further reports, in a series of royal decrees carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the monarch stripped Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had been positioned to inherit the throne, from his title as crown prince and from his powerful position as the country’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. And while he had previously been the second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, numerous royal watchers had 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, although he quickly rose to prominence when he emerged as the dominant voice in the OPEC production cut negotiations. He had previously been in charge of his father’s royal court when Salman was the crown prince. The Saudi monarch 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.
King Salman also reinstated all allowances and bonuses that were canceled or suspended to civil servants and military personnel, SPA reported.
While the backroom negotiations that resulted in today's stunning announcement will likely remain unknown indefinitely, today's dramatic overhaul of the Saudi royal succession was previewed here as recently as December, when we discussed that the present Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, is the last of the sons of the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz al Saud, who will ever sit on the Saudi throne. After Salman dies, Saudi leadership will pass to a new generation of Saudi royals. But not all the descendants of the first Saudi king are happy about how the future succession may turn out.
Salman named his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as crown prince after firing his half-brother, Mugrin bin Abdul Aziz, as crown prince after the death of King Abdullah in 2015. For good measure, Salman also named his son, Mohammad bin Salman, who is little-known outside the kingdom, as deputy prime minister. The 30-year old Mohammad bin Salman is seen by some as the eventual crown prince after King Salman figures out some way to ease Mohammad bin Nayef, the Interior Minister and close friend of the United States, out of the position of heir apparent to the throne.
More and more power has been concentrated into Mohammad bin Salman’s hands, including control over the Defense Ministry, the Council of Economy and Development, and the Saudi government-owned Arabian-American oil company (ARAMCO). The deputy crown prince and defense minister is the architect of Saudi Arabia’s genocidal military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and continued Saudi support for jihadist guerrillas in Syria and Iraq, as well as military support for the Wahhabist royal regime in Bahrain in its bloody suppression of the Shi’a Muslim majority population. Mohammad bin Salman is also the major force in Saudi Arabia seeking a military confrontation with Iran.
There is a schism within the Saudi royal family that has created a real-life «Game of Thrones» within the kingdom.
Finally, while it remains unclear what domestic consequences the King's decision will have, a decree which an official said was "due to special circumstances", that this major power move comes at a time when OPEC and Saudi Arabia are both reeling, as a result of plunging oil prices leads one to believe that the current deteriorating state of the Saudi economy, coupled with plunging oil revenues, may have been a catalyst in today's announcement.
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