x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

King Abdullah appoints son of Saudi crown prince new deputy defence minister

Prince Sultan, who was the first Arab astronaut, was born in 1956 and is the oldest living son of Crown Prince Salman, the heir apparent and current defence minister.

RIYADH // Saudi King Abdullah has appointed Prince Sultan bin Salman, the tourism minister as a new deputy defence minister in a move that strengthens his credentials for future high office in the kingdom.

The move was made in a royal decree carried by state news agency SPA. It did not give a reason for the switch.

Prince Sultan, who was the first Arab astronaut, was born in 1956 and is the oldest living son of Crown Prince Salman, the heir apparent and current defence minister.

Princes who aspire to hold top positions in the conservative Islamic kingdom are seen by analysts as needing to have held jobs that have a security role, such as those in the defence, foreign or interior ministries or the national guard.

King Abdullah turns 90 this year while Crown Prince Salman turns 78. Unlike in European monarchies, the succession does not pass from father to eldest son but along a line of brothers born to the kingdom's founder Ibn Saud.

After Abdullah and Salman, only one or two more brothers are expected to rule, meaning the ruling Al Saud family will then have to select a prince from the next generation.

Prominent grandsons of Ibn Saud in senior positions include Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a son of the later veteran interior minister, and Saudi Arabian National Guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, a son of the king.

Saudi Arabia's Defence Ministry is responsible for agreeing arms contracts worth billions of dollars that Riyadh has in the past used to cement relationships with key allies.

Crown Prince Salman was made minister after the death of the late Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who had held the role for over five decades, in 2011.

Over the past two years King Abdullah has reshuffled a number of government positions held by princes as he oversees a transition towards younger men.

Prince Sultan replaces Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, from a minor branch of the ruling family, who was appointed to the job less than four months ago.

Prince Fahd's predecessor, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, was a son of the previous defence minister and commanded Saudi forces during the 1991 Gulf War. He had until recently been seen as a possible future contender for higher office in the kingdom.