King Salman Replaces Crown Prince With Son

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday appointed his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince, placing him firmly as first-in-line to the throne and removing the country’s counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington from the royal line of succession.

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 heads an economic council tasked with overhauling the country’s economy.

He had previously been the second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long 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. He had previously been in charge of his father’s royal court when Salman was the crown prince.

The Saudi monarch, who holds near absolute powers, quickly 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, also known by his initials MBS.

The royal decree issued Wednesday stated that “a majority” of senior royal members from the so-called Allegiance Council supported the recasting of the line of succession. Saudi Arabia’s state TV said 31 out of 34 of the council’s members voted in favor of the changes.

The Allegiance Council is a body made up of the sons and prominent grandsons of the founder of the Saudi state, the late King Abdul-Aziz, who vote to pick the king and crown prince from among themselves.

Over the weekend, the king had issued a decree restructuring Saudi Arabia’s system for prosecutions that stripped Mohammed bin Nayef of longstanding powers overseeing criminal investigations, and instead ordered that a newly-named Office of Public Prosecution and prosecutor report directly to the monarch.

Mohammed bin Nayef was not believed to have played a significant role in Saudi and Emirati-led efforts to isolate Qatar for its support of Islamist groups and ties with Iran.

The prince had appeared to be slipping from public eye as his nephew, Mohammed bin Salman, embarked on major overseas visits, including a trip to the White House to meet President Donald Trump in March.

That visit to Washington helped lay the foundation for Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May, which marked the president’s first overseas visit and which was promoted heavily by the kingdom as proof of its weight in the region and wider Muslim world.

Saudi-U.S. relations had cooled under the Obama administration after Washington pursued a nuclear accord with Shi’ite-ruled Iran that the Sunni-ruled kingdom strongly opposed.

The warm ties forged between Riyadh and Washington under the Trump administration may have helped accelerate Mohammed bin Salman’s ascension as crown prince.

Despite his ambitions, which include overhauling the kingdom’s economy away from its reliance on oil, the prince has faced failures and strong criticism for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which he oversees as defense minister.

The war, launched more than two years ago, has failed to dislodge Iranian-allied rebels known as Houthis from the capital, Sanaa, and has had devastating effects on the impoverished country.

Rights groups say Saudi forces have killed scores of civilians and have called on the U.S., as well as the U.K. and France, to halt the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen war.

The U.S. already is helping the Saudis with intelligence and logistical support for the bombing campaign in Yemen, and the Trump administration has signaled it could assist with greater intelligence support to counter Iranian influence there.

The newly-minted crown prince also raised eyebrows when he ruled out any chance of dialogue with Iran. In remarks aired on Saudi TV in May, Mohammed bin Salman framed the tensions with Iran in sectarian terms, and said it is Iran’s goal “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine. He also vowed to take “the battle” to Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rivalry has played out in proxy wars across the region.

They back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen and they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq. The conflicts have deepened Sunni-Shi’ite enmity between hard-liners on both sides.

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz today (Wednesday) dismissed his nephew Muhammad bin Nayef as his First Crown Prince and Interior Minister and appointed his son, Muhammad bin Salman, 31, to serve as Defense Minister. Bin Salman replaces his cousin as heir to the throne in a shake-up that consolidates the 31-year-old leader’s power in the world’s biggest oil exporter, reports Bloomberg.

    State television aired a video showing Prince Muhammad bin Nayef pledging his allegiance in a meeting with the new crown prince. The younger prince bent down on his knees before his cousin and repeatedly kissed his hand.

    “May god help you,” Prince bin Nayef told him. “I can’t do without your instructions,” the younger price replied.

    The king’s decision to elevate his son, who already controlled the defense, oil and economy portfolios, was supported by 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family. King Salman relieved Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef from his post as Interior Minister in a royal decree. Salman has ordered the kingdom’s royal family to swear allegiance to the new heir apparent at a special ceremony to be held today in Mecca.

    The change gives Prince Muhammad greater authority to pursue his plan to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil, which includes selling a stake in oil giant Saudi Aramco and putting other assets under the control of a sovereign wealth fund he also heads. As defense minister, the prince oversees the war in Yemen against pro-Iranian Shiite rebels. He’s also a key figure in the current standoff with Qatar.

    Mohammed bin Salman will also serve as Deputy Prime Minister. In addition, the king appointed Prince Abd al-Azizi as Minister of the Interior in place of Ben Nayef.

    The 31-year-old new heir has a broad background in political activity, as defense minister and as head of a council aimed at reforming the Saudi economy.

    Ben Salman recently visited the United States and met with President Donald Trump. He is one of the strongest figures in Saudi Arabia – he led the Saudi war in Yemen, led many changes in the kingdom, among other things promoted energy policy and planned the future of the kingdom after the oil age.

    Muhammad Bin Zayed, the de factor ruler of the UAE, has told Bin Salman that he must open a “strong channel of communication” with Israel if he is to be Washington’s preferred candidate to be king, according to Middle East Eye. Their Saudi source said Bin Salman is eager to win the support of Washington as he has recently told close associates “he will complete the mission of becoming king before the end of the year”.

    Riyadh and Jerusalem were reported last year as having effectively worked together – despite officially having no diplomatic ties – to try to stop the US agreeing a nuclear deal with Iran.

    Representatives of the two countries have shared public platforms, such as at the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2015, when retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki spoke alongside Israeli official Dore Gold.

    Saudi-Israeli relations are a sensitive topic due to overwhelmingly sympathetic public opinion in the kingdom on the Palestinian cause for statehood.

    Christopher Davidson, author of After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, said, “Traditionally, Arab clients of the United States have often tried to curry favour with the Americans by being seen to at least cosy up to the state that they feel is America’s number one friend in the region – Israel”.

    One of the Saudi sources said Washington could be swayed into supporting Bin Salman’s bid to be king if he could achieve good communication with Israel, even if the Americans like Bin Nayef.

    David Hearst, editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye, sums up: “The Arab people from the Atlantic to the Gulf have changed. They have shed blood, lost homes, families, jobs, and their liberty. Thousands are in jail. Thousands more have drowned in the Mediterranean. Millions have been displaced. They are no longer awe struck by their absolute rulers with their absolute privilege and absolute wealth. And they are prepared to fight for basic human rights.

    “The House of Saud with all its court intrigues, with Abdullah merging into Salman and then Mohammed, has not changed. Access to power depends on the family tree. It makes a difference whether you are a brother or half-brother.

    “Ministerial portfolios are still handed down from father to son like goods and chattel. Professionals are still replaced with placemen. The family puts enormous power in the hands of one man. It makes gigantic mistakes in Yemen and Syria. And it is still, with its unimaginable wealth, a house of cards.”

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