In the biggest shake-up in Saudi Arabia in many decades, King Salman, who assumed power only three months ago on the death of King Abdullah, has fired the crown prince and the foreign minister, moving figures more closely tied to Washington into top positions.
The crisis atmosphere in ruling circles was expressed in the timing of the changes, announced in a communiqué issued at 4 a.m. local time in Riyadh, the capital city.
The 79-year-old king removed his 69-year-old half-brother, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, replacing him with his nephew, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the interior minister and head of security for the regime. He will be the first member of the generation of grandsons of the Saudi kingdom’s, Abdulaziz ibn Saud, to be placed first in the line of succession to the throne.
Mohammed bin Nayef has emerged as the strongman of the regime, spearheading crackdowns on both Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the ruling family, and dissidents of every kind, from liberals to the Shiite minority to the vast immigrant workforce that performs most of the country’s labor.
Perhaps more importantly, from the standpoint of the internecine struggle within the dynasty, the 55-year-old prince has no sons, making the position of deputy crown prince that much more important. Here Salman chose his own son, Mohammed bin Salman, who is only 34 years old, jumping him ahead of hundreds of more senior princes of his generation.