DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his son next in line to the throne on Wednesday, handing the 31-year-old sweeping powers as the kingdom seeks radical overhaul of its oil-dependent economy and faces mounting tensions with regional rival Iran.
Although Mohammed bin Salman’s promotion to crown prince was expected among those who follow the royal family closely, the timing was a surprise, putting the kingdom’s future in relatively untested hands.
He replaces his cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a veteran security chief who led the Saudi campaign against Islamic State and al Qaeda at a time when Riyadh faces heightened tensions with Qatar and Iran and is locked into a war in Yemen.
Mohammed bin Salman’s appointment may make Saudi policy more hawkish against long-time enemy Iran and other Gulf rivals such as Qatar, increasing volatility in an already unstable region, analysts say.
“The elevation of Mohammad Bin Salman to the Crown Prince will likely mean minimal change to oil production policy but could bring more aggressive foreign policy moves that bring back the political risk premium,” said a research note by RBC Capital Markets, LLC.
The young prince is often charming in person, but analysts say his rapid rise has also created friction within the ruling family and made Saudi policy less predictable than in recent decades.