In the early morning hours of June 21, Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree announcing that Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, would replace his elder cousin, former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, 57, as the immediate successor to the Saudi Arabian throne. The news comes as a surprise to all and could have major implications for the nation's future dependence on oil and its influence over the Middle East.
A video (below) released on Saudi state television shows bin Salman kissing the hand of the former crown prince, who was stripped of all titles following the change of succession.
Middle East Eye reports that bin Nayef told bin Salman on state television, "I am going to rest now. May God help you."
"May God help you. I will never do without your advice," bin Salman responded.
Bin Nayef had previously served as interior minister, reports Al Jazeera. The nation's top counter-terrorism official, bin Nayef was credited with keeping the kingdom stable and relatively safe from Islamic State militants. In 2009, he survived an assassination attempt by suicide bomber affiliated with al-Qaeda.
The weekend before the announcement, 81-year-old King Salman announced changes to Saudi Arabia’s system for prosecutions that stripped bin Nayef of his previous position to oversee criminal investigations.
Some are tentatively worried about bin Nayef's removal.
"Muhammed bin Nayef was Washington’s man in Riyadh for a long time,” said Peter Salisbury of London-based international affairs research group Chatham House. “The security establishment will be unhappy he’s gone, more so because the new crown prince has really cut out institutions and is building a direct relationship with the White House.”
Countering bin Nayef's reduction of power, bin Salman has been on the political ascent since King Salman, his father, appointed him as his special adviser in 2009. When King Salman took the throne in 2015, he made his son second in the line of succession and gave him control over economy and defense-related matters. Bin Salman has since been very active in the political realm.
In 2016, he released a plan to help wean the country off of its economic dependence on oil by 2030. He has had two meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017.
Bin Salman is known for taking a hard-line approach to foreign policy issues -- particularly, the spread of Islamic terrorist groups. According to Bloomberg, he hopes to isolate Iran and Qatar over their support of certain groups that the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia oppose. He is also expected to make changes that appeal to a younger crowd, such as loosening entertainment restrictions and promoting a more socially open culture.
Because of his young age, bin Salman may very well become one of the longest-leading monarchs in Saudi Arabia's history.