Saudi succession reset: Major reshuffle aims to cope with new challenges
London - Saudi King Salman began the shift to a third generation of the Arab country’s leadership by installing a new crown prince and inserting one of his sons next in the line of succession to the throne.
Salman made his nephew Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef crown prince and his son, Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince. The moves effectively set the Saudi line of succession for decades.
Almost all powers under the king are in the hands of the pair, who lead committees determining security and economic development issues in Saudi Arabia and led Riyadh’s campaign of air strikes in Yemen.
In another major shift, King Salman replaced veteran Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who had served in the role since 1975, with the kingdom’s US ambassador, 53-year-old Adel al-Jubeir, the first non-royal to hold the post.
The changes announced on April 29th mark the second major government shake-up since Salman inherited power in January.
“It’s a historical shift really. It’s real generational change,” a Western diplomatic source told Agence France-Presse (AFP) referring to Mohammed bin Nayef’s appointment.
Mohammed bin Nayef is 55 and Mohammed bin Salman was born in 1985, a great change in the age of Saudi leadership that saw 79-year-old Salman succeed Abdullah, who was 90 when he died on January 23rd. Mohammed bin Nayef replaces Prince Muqrin as first in the order of succession. Muqrin, 69, was removed after having “expressed his desire to be relieved from the position of crown prince”, a statement by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said. Mohammed al-Zulfa, a former member of the kingdom’s consultative council, told The Arab Weekly that Mohammed bin Nayef “has an outlook and a vision both domestically and regionally concerning the challenges facing the kingdom, so in many ways his appointment is perfect timing”.
The Yemen campaign, where both princes have been involved, is seen by analysts as reflecting a more assertive approach to Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy under Salman.
Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst with close ties to the kingdom’s Interior Ministry, told Reuters he expects a “faster decision-making and more long-term thinking; a leadership that won’t hesitate from any confrontation”.
This follows what many Saudis see as a decade of growing Iranian influence across the Middle East and a steady disengagement by Riyadh’s historical main strategic partner Washington. Saudi Arabia also faces long-term domestic challenges, including entrenched youth unemployment, unsustainable state spending and tension between religious conservatives and more Western-oriented liberals.
Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, told The Arab Weekly, “The reshuffle indicates the king’s determination to press ahead with the transition to the next generation of Saudi leaders.”
Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly Gulf section editor.