The Saudi succession: Palace intrigues – The Economist
SAUDI ARABIA woke on April 29th to a political upheaval in the royal family, one of the world’s most opaque. At 4am the state media announced that King Salman had appointed a new heir to the throne, and the successor to that heir. Muhammad bin Nayef, the interior minister and second-in-line to the throne, was elevated to crown prince. He replaces Muqrin, the king’s half-brother and the youngest living son of Abdel Aziz al-Saud, who founded the modern kingdom in 1932. The new deputy crown prince is the 30-something son of the king, Muhammad.
Muhammad bin Nayef’s elevation means the crown will pass to the next generation on the king’s death, ending a 60-year tradition of rule passing between brothers. Many Saudis will welcome this, since the ruling generation is ever more remote from its youthful population. King Salman is 79, while almost 70% of his 29m citizens are under 30. The ousted crown prince is 69. The new one is 55.
But the moves also reek of dynastic intrigue. They shore up Salman’s branch of the royal family—the Sudairis, the seven sons and their descendants of one of Abdel Aziz’s many wives—at the expense of the rest. Since Salman came to the throne in January he has relentlessly promoted his favourite child, Muhammad, despite his lack of experience. He appointed him head of his royal court, defence minister and head of a powerful new body overseeing the economy. He has been the face of the war in Yemen, while Muqrin, although a former air force pilot, has barely appeared in the media.
Muhammad bin Nayef is popular thanks to his record on security. He crushed the local al-Qaeda affiliate that carried out a bombing campaign in Riyadh between 2005 and 2007 (surviving members fled over the border to Yemen, where they are profiting from the chaos of war). Only a day before the reshuffle Saudi Arabia announced the arrest of 93 militants for ties to Islamic State, including two whom it alleges were planning to bomb the American embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Among the other changes announced in the small hours, Saud al-Faisal, who has been foreign minister for 40 years, was replaced by Adel al-Jubeir, a non-royal who until this week was ambassador to America. Sudairi or not, the House of Saud needs to make sure that it, not Iran, remains the Americans’ main ally in the region.