Saudi Arabia’s King Salman replaces crown prince with favoured son

Promotion of Mohammed bin Salman comes as Gulf faces its biggest crisis in decades

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has promoted his favoured son, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince in a dramatic shake-up of the established succession order that clears the young royal's path to the throne.

The prince replaces Mohammed bin Nayef, his cousin, who was also removed from his post as interior minister, where he oversaw domestic security and the kingdom’s counter-terrorism policy.

The move cements the elevation of Mohammed bin Salman, who as deputy crown prince has been the driving force behind Gulf state's ambitious plans to overhaul the oil-dependent economy, including the planned partial privatisation of Saudi Aramco.

Speculation has swirled during the past two years that the elderly king would promote his 31-year-old son so that he could inherit the throne directly as the prince increasingly became the public face of the Saudi leadership at home and abroad.


The turnover at the top of the royal family was made by a majority decision of 31 of 34 members of the kingdom’s allegiance council, a royal body set up to oversee succession, the official news agency reported.

Mohammed bin Nayef, who was valued by the US as a close partner in counter terrorism operations, but appeared increasingly isolated at home, pledged his allegiance to the new crown prince, the official news agency reported. But the move to replace him risks triggering divisions within the ranks of the ruling Al Saud family, given the private concerns among some family members about the rise of the inexperienced Prince Mohammed.

The shake-up also comes at a time when the Gulf is facing its biggest crisis in decades after Saudi Arabia and three Arab allies cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar, alleging that the Gulf state sponsored terrorism.

That decision reflected the kingdom's increasingly interventionist foreign policy, which has been overseen by Prince Mohammed, including Riyadh's controversial military campaign in Yemen. The young royal has courted foreign leaders, including US president Donald Trump, and the world's top executives as he has sought to strengthen ties with allies and lure investment to back his reform plans.

Social change

With Saudi Arabia planning to sell a five per cent stake in Aramco through an initial public offering in 2018 – a listing that could value the company at $2 trillion – Riyadh has struck a string of multibillion dollar deals under Prince Mohammed's leadership. The state-owned Public Investment Fund, a once-sleepy sovereign wealth fund, is investing $45 billion in a partnership with Japan's SoftBank to launch a technology fund, and it paid $3.5 billion for a stake in Uber, the car-hailing app, last year.

He first rose to further prominence when his father removed crown prince Muqrin just three months after he ascended to the throne following the death of Kking Abdullah in January 2015.

The transition occurred at a time when Saudi Arabia was grappling with the collapse in oil prices that has forced the government to slash spending, borrow heavily and pushed the non-oil economy to the brink of recession.

In a bold attempt to transform the Arab world’s biggest economy, Prince Mohammed launched a “Vision 2030” plan last year to reduce the role of the state, bolster the private sector and create jobs for young Saudis.

He has promoted a gradualist approach to social change, curbing the powers of the feared religious police who enforce strict segregation and public religiosity in the conservative country. Looking for further appeal among the kingdom’s large youth population, he has also sought to promote entertainment options such as music concerts.

As defence minister he played an important role in launching the damaging Yemeni war against Shia Houthi rebels and is also building a Sunni-led military coalition to confront Iran, which Saudi Arabia accuses of interference in the Arab world.

Prince Mohammed developed a close relationship with the Trump family and welcomed the US president to Riyadh for his first official overseas visit in May.

A central theme of Mr Trump’s trip was ramping up pressure against Iran, which analysts say emboldened Saudi Arabia to take action against Qatar, another US ally.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef has been appointed the new interior minister – a vital position given the domestic threat from Sunni jihadist groups such as Isis.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017