Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman , has been named prime minister, a position traditionally held by the king, a royal decree announced on Tuesday.
Mohamed bin Salman, called MBS, “will be the prime minister” of the oil kingdom, said King Salman’s decree, published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The country’s de facto leader for several years, he previously served as deputy prime minister and defense minister.
He is replaced in the position of Defense Minister by his younger brother Khalid bin Salmán, until now deputy minister of the branch.
As part of the government reshuffle announced on Tuesday, the heads of other important ministries such as the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Energy remain in office, according to the royal decree.
The crown prince, who turned 37 last month, has been first in line to the throne since 2017, held by his 86-year-old father Salman.
King Salmán was hospitalized twice this year, the last time in May for a week, when he had to undergo various tests, including a colonoscopy, according to official media.
Prince Mohammed became defense minister in 2015, a key step in consolidating his power.
In that role, he has overseen Saudi Arabia’s military activities in Yemen, ever since the kingdom heads an international coalition that supports and recognizes the government in its fight against Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
It has also become the visible face of the reform agenda known as Vision 2030.
The changes include guaranteeing women the right to drive, opening movie theaters, receiving foreign tourists, weakening religious impositions, receiving pop and sports stars.
He would become by far the youngest of the Saudi dynasty to succeed to the throne after the death of his father.
MBS de facto directs this regional oil power and is an unavoidable interlocutor at the international level.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, the Saudi kingdom and the crown prince in particular were seeking to overcome the diplomatic isolation imposed by most Western countries following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi power.
After his election, US President Joe Biden declassified a report indicating that MBS had “validated” the murder, which the Saudi authorities have always denied.
But in the wake of the Russian invasion and rising energy prices, Biden, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other Western leaders turned to the kingdom to try to convince it to pump out more crude.
“Validate your authority”
The Saudi announcement also comes after the mediation of MBS in the release by Russia and the transfer on September 21 to Saudi Arabia of ten prisoners of war, including five British and two Americans.
Appointing the crown prince Prime Minister is a rare decision, but not unprecedented. In the 1950s, Crown Prince Fayçal became Prime Minister.
But now it is different, because it is about “making a de facto situation official,” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the government.
For Umar Karim, an expert on Saudi politics at the University of Birmingham, MBS “has already passed the phase of the struggle for power and won. What is happening now is a way of validating his authority.”