The new king of Saudi Arabia moved quickly to announce his new crown princes, elevating Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to first in line and naming the country’s minister of interior to the deputy position.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud appeared in a televised speech, before the late King Abdullah’s funeral proceedings took place on Friday afternoon, when he appointed his youngest brother, Muqrin, as the official crown prince and appointed Mohammed bin Nayef al-Saud, the oil-rich Gulf nation’s minister of interior, as deputy crown prince.
Prince Muqrin is a former head of the Saudi intelligence and was born in 1945. At 69, he is considered a much younger crown prince in Saudi’s recent history.
He graduated in 1968 with a degree in aeronautics from Britain’s Royal Air Force College in Cranwell, where he also earned a master’s degree in military sciences and served in several Royal Saudi Air Force positions before he formally retired from active military duty.
In 1980, he was appointed governor of Hayel and in 1999, he assumed the governorship of Madina city until 2005.
Perhaps anticipating the potential questions surrounding the country’s succession issue, the late King Abdullah established an “allegiance council” in 2006, made up of his brothers and nephews, who decide collectively on the succession process.
The allegiance council added an unprecedented position last year to the line of succession – a deputy crown prince.
At a much younger age given that he is the youngest from his line of brothers, Prince Muqrin was widely seen as Saudi Arabia’s next king should King Salman eventually relinquish the title upon his death.
“Nothing new here other than Muqrin’s appointment stepped over several older brothers. That’s what stood out in 2014 when [late] King Abdullah made the decision that the time was right to close this chapter of rulership with the youngest son of the founder,” Joseph Kechichian, a columnist for the Gulf News newspaper and a specialist on GCC relations, told Al Jazeera.
Some within circles of Saudi society viewed King Abdullah’s appointment of Muqrin as unprecedented because there were still several older brothers ahead of him who were passed over. The fact that Muqrin was born to a Yemeni mother was also a first for a sitting royal whose lineage was not fully Saudi.
“Prince Muqrin has held numerous high offices throughout his career and no one has doubted his ability. When King Abdullah elevated him to the position of deputy crown prince, it was clear that he would play a key role in maintaining future al-Saud unity,” Christian Koch, director of the Gulf Research Centre Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “Overall, the voices of discontent do not stand equal to Prince Muqrin’s achievements.”
Prince Muqrin has held numerous high offices throughout his career and no one has doubted his ability. When King Abdullah elevated him to the position of deputy crown prince, it was clear that he would play a key role in maintaining future al-Saud unity. Overall, the voices of discontent do not stand equal to Prince Muqrin’s achievements.
Friday’s naming of Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, as the new deputy crown prince has also officially marked the generational shift in the royal court. When he becomes king one day, he would be the first grandson of founding King Abdulaziz al-Saud to rule.
“As per continuity, it was King Abdullah who appointed Mohammed bin Nayef as minister of interior during his reign. From there, Mohammed became second in line to the throne where he is considered a young man… I see that they will gain the same [domestic] policies in putting us on the reformist track,” Waleed Arab Hashem, a member of Saudi’s Shura Council, told Al Jazeera.
Mohammed has been widely credited for the success of the interior ministry’s counterterrorism programme. So much was he feared by rebel fighters that al-Qaeda attempted to assassinate him in 2009 when he was still Saudi’s security chief. The prince narrowly survived that attack, in which a fighter approached him claiming he wanted to defect before detonating a bomb concealed under his clothes.
Educated in the US, earning a degree in political science in 1981, many have considered him an emerging liberal voice within the younger generation of the royal family.
However, his human rights record has come under scrutiny during his reign as minister of interior, with a high number of social activists being imprisoned, and even flogged, in recent months.
Pundits say it was no mistake that it only took 12 hours after the late King Abdullah’s death to confirm and name both Princes Muqrin and Mohammed as the country’s next in line.
“With Mohammed Bin Nayef being named deputy crown prince, the switch to the next generation is in effect being made without much of the problems that many worried about beforehand. This is significant and shows that the family is fully aware that one cannot risk a family problem on top of all the regional issues that confront the kingdom,” Koch said.
While it is still early to predict how much change both Muqrin and Mohammed will affect in both domestic and foreign policies, the new King Salman has vowed to change nothing of his predecessor’s policies, pledging instead to “remain, with God’s strength, attached to the straight path that this state has walked since its establishment”.
Mansour Almarzoqi, a researcher on Saudi politics at Sciences Po de Lyon, France, told Al Jazeera that meaningful social change in Saudi domestic policies would depend on how each prince plays out alliances with segments of society.
“There will be a fierce battle between intellectuals and the religious conservatives to gain meaningful alliances with both Prince Muqrin and Mohammed. If the contender happens to align with the intellectuals, we could see a new pace in social change,” said Almarzoqi.
“But for now, nothing is clear and we’ll have to wait to see how these royal cards play out.”