King Salman of Saudi Arabia has announced a major cabinet reshuffle that puts in place a new generation to succeed him as head of the kingdom.
The new king has appointed his nephew, Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as Crown Prince, replacing Prince Moqrin bin Abdul Aziz.
His son, Mohammed bin Salman, believed to be in his early 30s, has been made deputy crown prince.
King Salman, 78, came to the throne in January 2015 after the death of his half-brother Abdullah.
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King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who was thought to be aged about 90, had been on the throne since 2005 and Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader for the 10 years before that.
King Salman has pushed aside allies of the late monarch such as his half-brother Moqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who was Crown Prince.
The rise of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, and Mohammed bin Salman means a new generation is now in line to lead the kingdom for the first time.
The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is likely to be welcomed by the United States, with whom he has a close relationship.
The kingdom’s veteran security chief, he is known for his strong stance against Islamist militants and narrowly survived an assassination attempt by al-Qaeda in 2009.
The new deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has enjoyed a meteoric rise within the Saudi leadership.
He was appointed defense minister in January, and in the last month has been overseeing the Saudi-led operation in Yemen.
In other appointments, the world’s longest-serving Foreign Minister Saud el Faysal – who has been in his job since 1975 – has been replaced by the Saudi ambassador to the US Adel Jubeir, who is not a member of the royal family.
King Salman has been pushing a more assertive, muscular foreign policy to push back against Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran with the new appointments reinforcing that trend.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia has appointed his nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince.
The powerful interior minister has become the second in line to the throne after Crown Prince Muqrin.
The announcement of the deputy crown prince’s appointment on January 23, following the death of King Abdullah, quiets further speculation over future succession in the kingdom. It paves the way for the deputy crown prince to become the first grandson of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to succeed to the throne.
Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, age 69, is next in line after King Salman.
The moves by Saudi Arabia’s new king to ease the transition of power came just hours before King Abdullah’s surviving sons carried their father’s shrouded remains on a pallet atop their shoulders to his grave at Oud Cemetery in the capital Riyadh.
In keeping with the traditions of Wahhabi strand of Sunni Islam, which frowns on idolizing the dead and dramatic public expressions of grief, members of the royal family and other mourners were somber and restrained, and the grave was unmarked.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, has been credited as the main force behind the eradication of al-Qaeda operatives inside Saudi Arabia when they waged a campaign to destabilize the kingdom between 2003 and 2006. He was appointed interior minister in November 2012.
Also on January 23, King Salman’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was named defense minister, a position the new king held until he succeeded his half-brother, King Abdullah.
In addition, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, age 34, was designated chief of the royal court, replacing Khaled Al Tuwaijri, who was removed from all his posts.
Khaled Al Tuwaijri was an influential adviser to King Abdullah.
The appointments signal the intention of the new Saudi leader to continue the government’s drive to curb dissent at home and Islamist and anti-Sunni forces abroad.
In the kingdom, they also reassert the eminence of the Sudairi Seven, made up of the seven sons of the kingdom’s founder and Hassa bint Ahmad Al Sudairi, one of his wives.
King Abdullah’s sons retained their positions, but the new royal appointments mark a reversal of the late king’s practice of elevating his sons and allies to senior positions.
All other current ministers in the cabinet, including the oil minister Ali al-Naimi, will keep their positions, King Salman said in another royal decree.
The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince resolves, at least for the moment, some of the questions that shadowed King Abdullah’s waning years. In particular, it sets forth a path for the transfer of power from the sons of the kingdom’s founder to his grandsons.
Under Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, unlike most other monarchies, the throne doesn’t pass automatically from parent to eldest child upon the death or abdication of the monarch. Saudi law stipulates only that the throne passes to the “most upright” of the sons and grandsons of the kingdom’s founder.
In 2006, the Saudi royal family established a panel designed to help future kings choose their heirs. King Abdullah and his successor, however, were excluded from its mandate.
Under the provisions of the so-called Allegiance Committee, the king’s choice for crown prince is subject to a vote by the panel. If the committee disapproves of the king’s selection, it offers an alternative candidate. If the two sides still fail to agree, the committee votes on one of the two nominees.