CAIRO, EGYPT - Saudi Arabia's king made a series of dramatic shuffles to the country's line of succession Wednesday, amid a wave of turmoil in the Arab world and what analysts say are growing questions about Salman’s weeks-old reign.
In an announcement on state TV, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is Salman’s nephew and currently the country’s interior minister, was named the new crown prince.
That makes him first in line to inherit the throne from King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
The king's son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was tapped to be the new deputy crown prince, making him second in line to rule the kingdom.
Salman also replaced Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, elevating the current
ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, to the post. The move makes al-Jubeir the first non-royal to hold the post.
Salman assumed the throne of the oil-rich kingdom and close U.S. ally following the death in January of the longtime monarch, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Salman's decision to name Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince “signaled that the long anticipated transition to a new generation in the Saudi royal family leadership had begun,” Richard Murphy, who was U.S. ambassador to the kingdom in the early 1980s, told VOA.
It also comes as Saudi Arabia has aggressively flexed its military muscle trying to stop Shi’ite Houthi rebels from taking control of neighboring Yemen.
The Houthi rebels are widely believed to be supported by Shi’ite Iran, which is an avowed enemy of the Sunni Saudi kingdom.
The Saudi campaign is closely associated with both Prince Mohammeds, and may reflect a more assertive approach to foreign policy under Salman.
“Saudi Arabia is facing a quagmire in Yemen,” said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. “They started an air campaign that does not seem to have a political horizon, so he is trying to deal with it.”
Saud Nayef, a professor at the University of Hail, told government TV that Salman made the leadership changes due to serious regional and doctrinal threats, including in Yemen and the growing threat posed by the radical militants of Islamic State, who hold vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The man Mohammed bin Nayef replaced, Prince Muqrin, is one of the final
surviving sons of the kingdom's founder, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud.