Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, left, and Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Image Credit: Agencies

Seoul: When King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz acceded the Saudi throne last January 23, he dutifully elevated his younger half-brother Muqrin to become his heir apparent, which affirmed continuity and stability.

Those were classic Al Saud family objectives even if the style of rule was different between the late King Abdullah and his heir, the current King Salman.

At the time, the new monarch added value to his predecessor’s considerable innovation on succession matters when he appointed his nephew, Deputy Heir Apparent Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef, as the eventual successor, ensuring that a new generation of leaders would come to power in what everyone concluded would be a smooth process.

Prince Muqrin’s path to leadership, however, was cut short yesterday when he was relieved of his post, upon his request, according to an official statement, making Mohammad Bin Nayef successor to King Salman, who has now officially become the last monarch of the generation of sons of the kingdom’s founder King Abdul Aziz.

King Salman called for pledges of allegiance to be made to the crown prince and the deputy crown prince yesterday in Riyadh, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The reshuffle raised many questions but was also widely welcomed as a necessity to confront the serious challenges expected in the years ahead.

The 55-year-old Mohammad Bin Nayef will keep his position as Interior Minister while serving as crown prince. King Salman’s son, the young prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who is also the Defence Minister, also moved up the power ladder quickly, with his appointment as deputy crown prince. One observer said the carefully tailored move yesterday morning granted the country’s youths an unparalleled degree of autonomy, energised by the type of political responsibility seldom granted to them at any previous time.

Many speculate that King Salman probably decided to accelerate the pace of what he determined was inevitable change as a new generation rose up to the challenge.

Time will tell whether this calculation was the best approach, but it is becoming more evident that the leadership has shifted towards the young generation.

“The speed with which he’s appointing people is astonishing,” Toby Matthiesen, research fellow at University of Cambridge, said.

“Not necessarily all the changes are that surprising but it seems these decisions are made in almost total secrecy and announced in the middle of the night.”

The Royal Decree announcing the latest changes was released after 4am in Riyadh.

Diplomats in Riyadh had speculated how much further the king’s son would rise after being made defence minister, head of the royal court and the economic affairs council.

“King Salman is creating an impetus for the younger generation to be involved in the state of affairs,” said John Sfakianakis, the Riyadh-based director of the Middle East at UK investment manager Ashmore Group Plc. “There was a lot criticism about Saudi Arabia appointing only octogenarians in senior positions. Now the grandsons of the founder of the country are in the number two and three slots.”

In another surprise, the royal decree also relieved Prince Saud Al Faisal from the post of Foreign Minister, replacing him with Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington, Adel Al Jubeir.

According to the statement, Prince Saud “asked to be relieved from his duties due to his health conditions. The official Saudi Press Agency clarified that the veteran minister, who held the position since 1975, was appointed an adviser and a special envoy of King Salman, as well as a “supervisor on foreign affairs”.

Given the myriad responsibilities that a Saudi foreign minister must assume, and because of the enviable skills of Adel Al Jubeir as an American specialist, King Salman could be entrusting the post to someone who knows how to communicate with the Barack Obama administration for the remainder of the president’s term in office.

From an analytical perspective, the latest appointments confirm King Salman’s penchants for shock and awe.

In his second cabinet reshuffle in as many months, the King introduced unusual paradigms domestically and in foreign policy, such as removing a minister after complaints from citizens and leading an Arab coalition to fight the Iran-backed Al Houthi group which overthrew the Hadi government in Yemen.

King Salman’s latest appointment was supported by the majority of the allegiance council, according to the decree.

— with inputs from agencies