Saudi Arabia’s King Salman changes line of succession
ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced a shake up at the highest levels of power on Wednesday, shifting the line of royal succession at a time of unprecedented regional strife.
Interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef replaced Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as the next-in-line to lead Saudi Arabia, while defence minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’ son, became deputy crown prince.
The changes are a sign that Riyadh wants to dispel questions about its leadership as the kingdom faces growing threats from extremist groups and Iranian plays for regional influence.
In a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency, King Salman also announced a series of other appointments that promoted younger officials.
These included naming the country’s ambassador to the United States, Adel Al Jubeir, 53, as foreign minister, replacing Prince Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who had served in the position since 1975. Prince Saud was replaced because of health concerns, according to SPA. He was named an adviser to King Salman and supervisor of foreign affairs.
Mr Al Jubeir’s appointment is unusual because he is not a member of the royal family. He has been posted in Washington since 1987, when he served as special assistant to former Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, according to the embassy’s website.
Khalid Al Falih, CEO of the state oil company Saudi Aramco, was appointed health minister. He will also be chairman of Saudi Aramco.
Adel bin Mohammed Al Fakeih, formerly labour minister, became minister of economy and planning. The new labour minister is Mufrej Al Haqbani.
Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Suwailem, a relatively unknown figure, was appointed as head of the royal court, a key position because it controls access to King Salman.
“This is a king with a vision, that strongly believes in injecting new blood [into the government],” said Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
King Salman also announced a one-month salary bonus for members of the military and security services.
UAE leaders sent congratulatory messages to the new crown prince and deputy crown prince.
The new appointments are a sign of how King Salman has consolidated control after succeeding his late half-brother King Abdullah as monarch last January.
“I think this has to do with domestic politics rather than external politics,” said an informed source responding to questions about the change in succession.
The source said that King Salman has now done “everything he can” to ensure succession to the throne down his line of the Saudi family.
The actions of the new crown prince and deputy crown prince can now be expected to be closely scrutinised since their decisions will shape Saudi Arabia in the coming decades.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, the new crown prince, is known for successfully countering Al Qaeda following a series of attacks within Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006. He is also in charge of Saudi Arabia’s policy towards Syria and is considered a close ally of Washington in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
Prince Mohammed was initially named deputy crown prince after King Abdullah’s death last January.
He is the first grandson of King Abdulaziz Al Saud, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to be in the line of succession. His appointment as the next ruler speeds up the transition of power from the ageing sons of King Abdulaziz to a new generation of leaders.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new deputy crown prince, is believed to have taken a leading role in the Saudi-led fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Thought to be about 30 years old, Prince Mohammed rose quickly through the ranks of power in Saudi Arabia.
He served as head of his father’s court before being named defence minister in January.
Though the outcome of the war in Yemen will play a large role in defining his reputation, he is already viewed by many as a strong political operator.
“He is considered to be the face and perhaps even the mastermind of the Yemen operation by many,” said Fahad Nazer, an analyst at Virginia-based consultancy JTG Inc who used to work at the Saudi embassy in Washington.
“Yet, he still remains a relative unknown. Few seem to know that much about him personally and he rarely speaks in public. I think that will likely change going forward.”
The changes will give Prince Mohammed “more authority within the system”, said the informed source, referring to the prince as “ambitious”.
The reshuffle is also an indication that Riyadh will in the future be more likely to pursue policies that directly asserts itself as a regional power, after mainly acting through proxies in the past decades.
This means that many observers of Saudi Arabia will focus their attention on the relationship between Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Relations between the two critically important,” said the informed source.
The appointments come at a time of high tension in the region and as Tehran and the international community work on the final stages of a deal over its nuclear programme, a key concern for Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that security forces had arrested dozens of suspected ISIL-affiliated militants inside the kingdom between December and April. The suspects were planning to carry out attacks on residential areas, security sites and the US embassy.
Meanwhile, weeks of Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes in Yemen have succeeded in destroying most sophisticated weaponry that rebels aligned with Tehran might use to target the kingdom, but starting talks to end the fighting has proven far more difficult.
Updated: April 29, 2015 04:00 AM