Young prince named first in line to throne in Saudi Ara­bia.

King Sal­man pro­motes 31-year-old son over coun­tert­er­ror­ism czar

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AB­DUL­LAH AL-SHIHRI AND AYA BA­TRAWY — Staff writer Dave Boyer con­trib­uted to this re­port.

RIYADH, SAUDI ARA­BIA | In an un­ex­pected break with prece­dent, Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man ap­pointed his 31-year-old son Mo­hammed bin Sal­man as crown prince on Wed­nes­day, plac­ing him first-in­line to the throne and lay­ing the ground­work for an en­tirely new gen­er­a­tion of roy­als to take the reins.

Saudi Ara­bia’s once pow­er­ful coun­tert­er­ror­ism czar, Prince Mo­hammed bin Nayef, was re­moved from the line of suc­ces­sion — giv­ing the younger prince a firmer hold on the king­dom’s shift­ing for­eign pol­icy, a shift that in­cludes closer ties with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, a sharp­en­ing ri­valry with Iran, a costly war in neigh­bor­ing Ye­men and a new cam­paign to iso­late Qatar.

The ap­point­ment of such a young royal as the im­me­di­ate heir to the throne es­sen­tially sets Saudi pol­icy for decades in the hands of a man seen as a risk-taker, in a king­dom known for cau­tion.

“He could be there for 50 years,” said Kris­tian Coates Ul­rich­sen, a re­search fel­low at the James A. Baker III In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy at Rice Univer­sity. “If you look at it pos­i­tively, it is ba­si­cally set­ting Saudi Ara­bia’s course into the 21st cen­tury.”

The shuf­fle stripped Mo­hammed bin Nayef of his ti­tle as crown prince and in­te­rior min­is­ter, over­see­ing se­cu­rity.

Pres­i­dent Trump, who re­ceived a warm wel­come in Riyadh on a visit last month, spoke Wed­nes­day with the crown prince to con­grat­u­late the 31-year-old on the news, the White House said Wed­nes­day.

The White House said Mr. Trump and the crown prince “dis­cussed the pri­or­ity of cut­ting off all sup­port for ter­ror­ists and ex­trem­ists, as well as how to re­solve the on­go­ing dis­pute with Qatar,” the White House said. “They dis­cussed ef­forts to achieve a last­ing peace be­tween the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans.”

The all-but-cer­tain takeover of the throne by Mo­hammed bin Sal­man awards vast pow­ers to a young prince who has taken a hard-line with Iran and who has led a con­tro­ver­sial war in Ye­men that has killed thou­sands of civil­ians. Iran’s state TV has called the ap­point­ment a “soft coup” in its main ri­val for in­flu­ence in the re­gion.

The prince, known as MBS, al­ready over­sees a vast port­fo­lio as de­fense min­is­ter. He has also be­come pop­u­lar among some of Saudi Ara­bia’s youth, who make up the bulk of the pop­u­la­tion, for pur­su­ing re­forms that have opened the deeply con­ser­va­tive coun­try to en­ter­tain­ment and greater for­eign in­vest­ments as part of an ef­fort to over­haul the econ­omy, in­clud­ing plans to list a per­cent­age of the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco on pub­lic mar­kets.

The young prince was rel­a­tively un­known to Saudis be­fore Sal­man be­came king in Jan­uary 2015. He had pre­vi­ously been in charge of his father’s royal court when Sal­man was the crown prince.

MBS is now poised to be­come the first Saudi monarch from a gen­er­a­tion of roy­als who rep­re­sent the grand­sons of the coun­try’s founder, King Ab­dul-Aziz. For decades, the throne has passed from el­derly brother to el­derly brother — all sons of the late founder.

The re­cast­ing of the line of suc­ces­sion marks the first real test of the rul­ing Al Saud fam­ily’s abil­ity to man­age the in­evitable gen­er­a­tional shift from the sons of Saudi Ara­bia’s founder to his grand­sons, said Tor­b­jorn Soltvedt, an an­a­lyst at global risk con­sul­tancy Verisk Maple­croft.

An­other young prince also as­cended to power on Wed­nes­day. Prince Ab­du­laziz bin Saud, 33, was named the new in­te­rior min­is­ter over­see­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts and do­mes­tic se­cu­rity. His father is the gov­er­nor of Saudi Ara­bia’s vast East­ern Province, home to much of the coun­try’s oil wealth and most of its mi­nor­ity Shi­ites.

Both young princes hail from the pow­er­ful Su­dairi branch of the royal fam­ily.

The royal de­cree stated that “a ma­jor­ity” of se­nior royal fam­ily mem­bers — 31 out of 34 — from the so-called Al­le­giance Coun­cil sup­port the re­cast­ing of the line of suc­ces­sion. The Coun­cil is com­prised of se­nior princes who gather in se­cret and vote to pick the king and crown prince from among them­selves.

Even when there is dis­agree­ment, the royal fam­ily has long fol­lowed a tra­di­tion of speak­ing with one voice, par­tic­u­larly on is­sues of suc­ces­sion, in or­der to ap­pear united in front of Saudi Ara­bia’s many tribes and com­mu­ni­ties.

Af­ter the de­crees were an­nounced, Saudi TV aired footage of the new crown prince warmly greet­ing the man he is re­plac­ing, Mo­hammed bin Nayef. MBS is shown kiss­ing his older cousin’s hand and kneel­ing be­fore him; the out­go­ing crown prince is heard telling him: “I will rest now, and God help you.”

Mo­hammed bin Nayef was once a tow­er­ing fig­ure cred­ited with crush­ing al-Qaida’s cells in Saudi Ara­bia. He worked closely with Wash­ing­ton af­ter the Sept. 11 at­tacks, help­ing to share in­tel­li­gence to thwart more at­tacks.

De­spite his am­bi­tions, Prince Mo­hammed has faced crit­i­cism for the Saudi-led war in Ye­men, which has failed to dis­lodge Ira­nian-al­lied rebels known as Houthis from the Ye­meni cap­i­tal, Sanaa, and has had dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on the im­pov­er­ished coun­try.

The newly minted crown prince has also used fight­ing words to de­scribe Iran, vow­ing to take “the bat­tle” to the Shi­ite-ruled coun­try. Iran and Saudi Ara­bia’s ri­valry has played out in proxy wars across the re­gion and has deep­ened Sunni-Shi­ite en­mity be­tween hard-lin­ers on both sides.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mo­hammed bin Sal­man (left), newly ap­pointed as crown prince, kisses the hand of Prince Mo­hammed bin Nayef at the royal palace in Mecca, Saudi Ara­bia.

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