Saudi King Salman decided that it was time for change in Riyadh. As the kingdom contends with low oil prices, Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, and conflicts across the Middle East, Salman has made a change in the royal line of succession. Saudi Arabia now has a new crown prince. Gone is Mohammed bin Nayef who served in the post since April of 2015. His replacement will be Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 31 year old son of the current king.
Nayef has been stripped of his responsibilities by royal decree. The former crown prince often marched to the beat of his own drummer, so to speak. He frequently spoke to the media, something which is in stark contrast to the traditions of the Saudi royal family. This behavior rankled some senior members of the royal family, as did his perceived feet dragging during the first months of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Rumors swirled around Riyadh for quite some time that his days were numbered and replacement imminent.
That day has come. Although young, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has developed a reputation as hard working. Following his father taking the reins of power, the younger Salman emerged from obscurity. He was handed large responsibilities and afforded vast power in what now appears to have been a grooming period for this specific moment. He served as the minister of defense, playing a major role in Saudi Arabia’s Yemen operations. It is hoped by many in the corridors of power in Riyadh that his ascension will strike a positive chord with the kingdom’s younger population. He does have his critics though, who see the new crown prince as inexperienced and power hungry. With the close scrutiny that comes with his new role, the real Mohammed bin Salman will be uncovered rather quickly.
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an attempted transformation. The kingdom is seeking to shed the cumbersome dynamics that have accompanied its domestic and foreign policy decision making for decades. King Salman wants to create a more dynamic and assertive kingdom. The Yemen intervention, and more recently the orchestrated blockade of Qatar are prime examples. Ironically, it has been a new administration in the US which has provided the impetus for the kingdom’s recent behavior changes. The policies and goals of the Obama administration and Saudi Arabia clashed far more often than they aligned. This brought about friction and a lack of understanding at a time when a more cohesive US-Saudi relationship was needed. Now, King Salman understands that President Trump now provides the kingdom with the solid ally it has desperately sought from the US since 2008, and the motivation to remodel its foreign policy machinations in order to function more closely with the United States.