The Slatest

So, What’s the Deal With the New King-to-Be of Saudi Arabia?

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Mohammed bin Salman, then Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, at the White House, March 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.  

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ordained his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince on Wednesday. Salman stripped his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, of the title, which is next in line to the Saudi throne.

As Slate’s Josh Keating explained in 2015, the process of succession in Saudi Arabia is different from other existing monarchies in the world today. According to Saudi Arabia’s law on succession, the king must be a male direct descendant of the first Saudi king, Abdulaziz, who became king in 1932. The king then has the right to choose his own successor and this person doesn’t necessarily have to be his son. In spite of this, six kings since the death of the first Saudi monarch in 1953 have been his sons, including the current King Salman.

So who is this new king-to-be? The New York Times writes:

The young prince, known as M.B.S., emerged from obscurity after his 81-year-old father ascended to the throne in January 2015. He has since accumulated vast powers, serving as defense minister, overseeing the state oil monopoly, working to overhaul the Saudi economy and building ties with foreign leaders, including President Trump.

Mohammed bin Salman is also reported to be a driving force behind the monarchy’s blockade of Qatar; has overseen the country’s war in Yemen, leading to a staggering number of civilian deaths; and has rejected dialogue with Iran. Addressing his Saudi audience on a local television station in May, Prince Mohammed accused Iran of trying to control the Islamic world and achieve dominance for the Shia sect of the religion:

But with Iran, how do we communicate? Their logic is based on the notion that Imam Mahdi will come and that they must prepare the fertile environment for his arrival and they must control the Muslim world. They deprived their own people of development for more than 30 years and put them through starvation. The people have bad infrastructure because the regime only wants to achieve this aim related to Imam Mahdi. The regime will not change its mindset overnight; otherwise, its legitimacy inside Iran will come to an end.

Shortly after the royal decree appointing Mohammed crown prince was issued, Iranian state media labeled his ascension a “soft coup in Saudi Arabia.” (Earlier this year, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had referred to the monarchy as a “bunch of idiots.”)

According to Foreign Policy, Mohammed bin Salman has been working hard to woo the new U.S. administration, also notoriously not fans of Iran. “The effort appears so far to be a ringing success,” Elizabeth Dickenson writes. “Donald Trump visited Riyadh on his first overseas trip as president and has since visibly tilted in Saudi Arabia’s direction in policy toward the rest of the region, most notably in his animosity toward Iran.”

Trump is reported to have congratulated the new crown prince and expressed hopes for stronger ties between both countries, according to Saudi media.

More analysis of what this shakeup means, from the Times piece:

“This is a time when we really need some quiet diplomacy. We need cool headed politicians who are able to defuse tensions rather than inflame them,” said Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “There has been a far more aggressive stance in Saudi foreign policy under King Salman, and now it might get worse.”