Tabnak – Power struggle inside the Saudi monarchy, which for long the Saudi officials were trying to hide, has now come to its most open representation. After months of speculations and unofficial rumors, the Saudi King Salman finally changed the country’s crown prince, naming his son as the new heir of the throne.
The official Saudi sources declared today that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had replaced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with his own son, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the deputy crown prince and defense minister.
According to a royal decree, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, was also named deputy prime minister, and shall maintain his post as defense minister, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Wednesday.
The newly announced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman already oversees a vast portfolio as defense minister and head of 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.
It should be noted that as the defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman has already faced strong international criticism for the bloody military campaign he launched against neighboring Yemen in 2015 amid his rivalry with bin Nayef, the then powerful interior minister.
Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen since March 2015 to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led aggression has so far killed at least 14,000 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.
On the economic front, Mohammed has been a key backer of the kingdom’s so-called Vision 2030 program, under which the Saudi leaders seek to reduce reliance on oil exports. The plan is known as the most extensive and jarring economic shake-up of the country in decades, with economy experts describing it as too ambitious.
Mohammed bin Salman, according to analysts, appears to have orchestrated the Persian Gulf diplomatic crisis, which has seen a Saudi-led bloc of countries cutting ties with Qatar and imposed an economic siege on the country.
The diplomatic spat broke out days after a summit in Riyadh attended by US President Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Saudi rulers and, in particular, Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi-US relations had cooled under the Obama administration after Washington pursued a nuclear accord with Iran that the Saudi 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.