Saudi Arabia witnessed a radical power shift on Wednesday 21 June, as King Salman appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the deputy defence minister, next in line to the throne.
The 31-year-old Prince is to replace his cousin, the King’s nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, a well known counter-terrorism figure greatly admired by Washington for crushing an al-Qaeda bombing campaign in 2003-2006.
As veteran security chief, he led the Saudi campaign against IS and al-Qaeda in a time when Riyadh faced tensions with Iran and Qatar, while also being at war with Yemen.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 58, has been removed from his role as head of domestic security, state media confirm. Though he has pledged allegiance to his cousin.
The king’s decree also means that Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will be appointed as deputy prime minister while continuing his role as the world’s youngest defence minister.
“When I met him [crown prince] in Jeddah in 2013, he described himself as a lawyer. Today he’s a heartbeat way from ruling the most powerful country in the Arab world,” reported BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen.
Despite his age, the prince’s political and governmental journey started in 2007, when he served as full-time adviser to the council of ministers for two years. He was special adviser to his father in 2009, who at the time was governor of Riyadh. He was appointed defence minister in 2015, following his father’s accession to the throne.
For the younger generation of Saudi’s, the young royal, who is known for his bold economic reforms and aggressive foreign policy toward arch-rival Iran, confirms that things are changing.
Following decades of Saudi affairs led by typically 70 and 80-year-old kings, Prince Mohammed navigated the world stage with ease, reportedly charming both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Reuters.
Yet, he has attracted both domestic and international criticism as defence minister when leading Operation Decisive Storm, a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The operation, launched more than two years ago, consisted of eight Sunni-Muslim Arab countries fighting Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Saudi-led war in Yemen saw devastating effects on the impoverished country. Rights group accused his leadership of causing the killings of countless civilians and have called on the United States, UK and France to cut off weapon supply to Saudi Arabia.
Despite some disapproval in his foreign policy and economic reforms, his views are widely welcomed among young Saudi’s. In April 2016, he introduced Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s vision of the future, aiming to make the Kingdom the investment hub of the Arab and Islamic world.
The crown prince aims to privatise the economy, making it less reliant on oil, as it’s the second largest producer of oil. The overall aim is to establish an e-government system by 2030. He has also called for more entertainment options for the Kingdom, both for families and youth. The cabinet also passed regulations to lessen the power of the religious police.
The prince is also engaging younger Saudi Muslim scholars who are active on social media and better known among the Saudi youth, reports al-Jazeera.
To commentators, Prince Mohammed bin Salman is moments away from being the second most powerful man in Saudi Arabia.