Saudi Arabia’s recently installed King Salman announced key changes to his cabinet Wednesday, hinting at the kingdom’s future policies at home and abroad.
Foremost among his new appointments, the monarch elevated his 55-year-old nephew Prince Muhammad bin Nayef to the role of crown prince from the mostly honorary “deputy crown prince” position, replacing his 69-year-old half-brother Crown Prince Muqrin. With the new title, Muhammad becomes the first in line to assume the throne when the 79-year-old King Salman dies.
The new crown prince has spent years running the country’s counterterrorism programs within the Ministry of the Interior, in which role he is arguably responsible for eliminating Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula from Saudi Arabia, and forcing it to move operations to Yemen. He has also overseen Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military campaign in that country. (RELATED: Saudis Ignore US, Ignore Iran, Continue Pulverizing Yemen)
Muhammad bin Nayef becomes the first member of his generation in the royal family to assume the crown prince slot; the throne has passed between brothers or half-brothers since 1964. In turn, the new deputy crown prince is Muhammad bin Salman, the king’s own 30-year-old son who also now serves as the world’s youngest defense minister.
In another first, King Salman announced that Adel al-Jubeir would become Saudi Arabia’s next Foreign Minister, replacing Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has led the ministry since 1975. Currently serving as the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Jubeir will become the first non-royal ever to serve in the country’s top foreign policy post. (RELATED: Is This The World’s Most Passive-Aggressive Statement On Iran?)
Between the new crown prince’s experience battling al-Qaida, and Jubeir’s years spent defending the kingdom’s policies to the White House and Congress, the new team in Riyadh will be familiar with American policymakers. But it is also likely, as the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel writes in the Daily Beast, to be “riven with doubts about American reliability.”
King Salman, who is three months into his reign, came into the job after spending several years as the country’s Defense Minister. So far, his rule has been marked by strategic balance against Iran, which it sees as a serious regional rival and exporter of instability to Shiites across the Middle East.
He has also made telling changes to other national posts: in January, he replaced the head of the country’s notorious religious police in favor of a leader seen as more reliably conservative. Wednesday’s announcement also included the removal of the U.S.-educated deputy minister for girls’ education, the highest-ranking woman in the government.
In this light, while Salman has set the stage for a future king of the next generation, the move seems more calculated in the interest of stability than that of progress. As U.S.-Saudi relations strain in light of a muscular Iran and an uncertain Yemen, the monarch’s latest move prepares him to deal aggressively with the Americans — and with the rest of the region.
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