DUBAI • Saudi Arabia's King Salman has made his son next in line to the throne, handing the 31-year-old sweeping powers as the kingdom seeks radical overhaul of its oil-dependent economy and faces mounting tensions with regional rival Iran.
A royal decree appointed Prince Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and deputy prime minister yesterday. He retains the defence, oil and other portfolios.
The previous crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the king's nephew and a counter-terrorism chief admired in Washington for putting down an Al-Qaeda campaign of bombings in 2003 to 2006, was relieved of all his posts, according to the decree.
Although Prince Mohammed bin Salman's promotion was expected among close circles, the timing was a surprise, with the kingdom facing heightened tensions with Qatar and Iran, and locked in a war in Yemen.
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The royal decree said the decision by King Salman to promote his son and consolidate his power was endorsed by 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family.
Intent on dispelling speculation of internal divisions in the ruling dynasty, Saudi television was quick to show that the change in succession was amicable and supported by the family.
It is clearly a transition that has happened smoothly and bloodlessly. Now it is clear, it is straightforward. That kind of clarity lowers the risk. There is no question as to who is going to be in charge.
'' PROFESSOR BERNARD HAYKEL, of Princeton University, saying the decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle.
Throughout the early morning, it aired footage of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef pledging allegiance to the younger Mohammed bin Salman, who knelt and kissed his cousin's hand. "I am content," Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: "We will not give up taking your guidance and advice."
Analysts said the change ends uncertainty over succession and empowers Prince Mohammed bin Salman to move faster with his plan to reduce the kingdom's dependence on oil, which includes the partial privatisation of state oil company Aramco. "The change is a huge boost to the economic reform programme... Prince Mohammed bin Salman is its architect," said Mr John Sfakianakis, director of the Gulf Research Centre.
Professor Bernard Haykel, an expert on Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, said the king's decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle by setting out the line of succession clearly.
"It is clearly a transition that has happened smoothly and bloodlessly. Now it is clear, it is straightforward. That kind of clarity lowers the risk. There is no question as to who is going to be in charge," he said.
After Prince Mohammed bin Salman's promotion was announced, Saudi Arabia's stock market surged more than 3 per cent in early trade.
"Some people were predicting that this would lead to a division in the family and strife and some kind of revolt. I don't see that happening," Prof Haykel said.
Iran, Saudi Arabia's main rival for regional influence, called Prince Mohammed bin Salman's appointment a "soft coup".
Iran's leadership was critical of comments by the prince last month that the "battle" should be taken into Iran, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labelling the Saudi leadership then as "idiots".
Arab leaders, including Oman's Sultan Qaboos, Jordan's King Abdullah, Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, congratulated Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his appointment, according to state media.
The royal decree did not nominate a new deputy crown prince. In an apparent attempt to appease the family, the decree had a clause that made it clear that Prince Mohammed bin Salman will not be allowed to appoint one of his own sons as his successor.
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Saudi king appoints son as crown prince. str.sg/4Eph