Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has replaced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with his own son, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the deputy crown prince and defense minister.
According to a royal decree, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, was also named deputy prime minister, and shall maintain his post as defense minister, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Wednesday.
Saudi media say King Salman has called for a public pledge of allegiance to the new crown prince in the holy city of Mecca on Wednesday night.
The SPA also confirmed that 31 out of 34 members of Saudi Arabia’s succession committee chose Mohammed bin Salman as the crown prince.
Just days ago, the Saudi king stripped Nayef of his powers overseeing criminal investigations and designated a new public prosecution office to function directly under the king’s authority.
In a similar move back in 2015, the Saudi king had appointed his nephew, then deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef as the heir to the throne after removing his own half-brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from the position.
Under the new decree, King Salman further relieved Mohammed bin Nayef of his duties as the interior minister. He appointed Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef as the new interior minister and Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Salem as deputy interior minister.
Mohammed bin Salman is already in charge of a vast portfolio as chief of the House of Saud royal court and chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, which is tasked with overhauling the country’s economy.
The young prince was little known both at home and abroad before Salman became king in January 2015.
However, King Salman has significantly increased the powers of Mohammed, with observers describing the prince as the real power behind his father’s throne.
Power struggle in the House of Saud
There had long been speculations that Mohammed’s rise to power under his father’s reign might also accelerate his ascension to the throne.
On Wednesday, a well-known Saudi online activist, known on Twitter as @mujtahidd, predicted that King Salman would renounce power in favor of his son.
The whistleblower has already leaked documents indicating high-level corruption inside the Saudi royal family.
The power struggle inside the House of Saud came to light earlier this year when the Saudi king began to overhaul the government and offered positions of influence to a number of family members.
In two royal decrees in April, the Saudi king named two of his other sons, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and Prince Khaled bin Salman, as state minister for energy affairs and ambassador to the United States, respectively.
Mastermind of brutal, futile war
As the defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman has faced strong international criticism for the bloody military campaign he launched against neighboring Yemen in 2015 amid his rivalry with bin Nayef, the then powerful interior minister.
The campaign was launched with the aim of restoring the former Yemeni government, a close Riyadh ally, and crushing the country’s Houthi Ansarullah movement. On the domestic political stage, the offensive was also viewed as an attempt by Mohammed bin Salman to steal the show and sideline the then crown prince.
However, despite spending billions of petrodollars, the Riyadh regime has achieved none of its goals during the campaign, which has killed over 12,000 civilians, left much of Yemen in ruins and empowered the Takfiri terror groups operating there.
On the economic front, Mohammed has been a key backer of the kingdom’s so-called Vision 2030 program, under which the Saudi leaders seek to reduce reliance on oil exports.
The plan is known as the most extensive and jarring economic shake-up of the country in decades, with economy experts describing it as too ambitious.
Mohammed bin Salman, according to analysts, appears to have orchestrated the Persian Gulf diplomatic crisis, which has seen a Saudi-led bloc of countries cutting ties with Qatar and imposed an economic siege on the country.
The diplomatic spat came days after a summit in Riyadh attended by US President Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Saudi rulers and, in particular, Mohammed bin Salman.