Saudi succession reset: Major reshuffle aims to cope with new challenges

Friday 01/05/2015
Well-wishers greeting the new appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abduaziz (C-R) and the new Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (C-L) during ceremony of allegiance.

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.