Quiet coup in Saudi Arabia
King Salman removes nephew and elevates son to crown prince and deputy PM
24 June, 2017
Saudi Arabia's King Salman made last Wednesday a kind of a quiet coup in the kingdom by removing his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince and elevating his son Mohammed bin Salman to this position, news wires reported. According to a royal decree, the 31-year old prince would become deputy prime minister as well and will retain defence, oil and other portfolios he has already had. At the same time Mohammed bin Nayef was relieved of all positions.
The royal decree said the decision by King Salman to promote his son and consolidate his power was endorsed by 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family. Although Mohammed bin Salman's promotion was expected it came as a surprise at a time the kingdom is facing heightened tensions with Qatar and Iran and is locked in a war in Yemen.
Always intent on dispelling speculation of internal divisions in the Al Saud ruling dynasty, Saudi television was quick to show that the change in succession was amicable and supported by the family. Throughout the early morning last Wednesday it aired footage of Mohammed bin Nayef pledging allegiance to the younger Mohammed bin Salman who knelt and kissed his older cousin's hand. “I am content,” Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said. Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: “We will not give up taking your guidance and advice.”
A senior Saudi official said the decision was taken due to what he called special circumstances presented to the members of the Allegiance Council. He added that Mohammed bin Nayef supported the decision in a letter sent to the king. The royal decree did not nominate a new deputy crown prince. The position is relatively new in Saudi Arabia where a king has traditionally chosen his own successor. As deputy crown prince so far, Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for running Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, dictating an energy policy with global implications and spearheading plans for the kingdom to build an economic future after oil.
Analysts said the change ends uncertainty over succession and empowers Prince Mohammed bin Salman to move faster with his plan to reduce the kingdom's dependence on oil, which includes the partial privatisation of state oil company Aramco. “The change is a huge boost to the economic reform program. Prince Mohammed bin Salman is its architect,” said John Sfakianakis, director of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Centre, cited by Reuters.
According to Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, the king's decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle between his son and Mohammed bin Nayef by setting the line of succession clearly. “It's clearly a transition that has happened smoothly and bloodlessly. Now it's clear, it's straightforward. That kind of clarity lowers the risk, there's no question as to who's going to be in charge.”
The speed of Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power was considered astonishing. The announcement follows 2-1/2 years of already major changes in Saudi Arabia, which stunned allies in 2015 by launching an air war in Yemen, cutting back on lavish subsidies and proposing in 2016 the partial privatisation of state oil company Aramco. Prince Mohammed's promotion is to give further assurance that efforts to diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil would continue.