Tags: saudi arabia | leaders | Mohammed bin Nayef | Mohammed bin Salman

Saudis' New Heirs Apparent Take Washington by Surprise

Saudis' New Heirs Apparent Take Washington by Surprise
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, left, and Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Ahmad Al-Ghami/AFP/Getty Images; PA/Xinhua/Landov)

By    |   Thursday, 30 April 2015 07:28 AM

The decision by Saudi Arabia's King Salman to appoint his nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as the new heir apparent caught some Washington analysts by surprise, according to Politico.

The king also appointed his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the new deputy crown prince and second in line to the throne. He made his ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, foreign minister.

Salman, who is in his late 70s or early 80s, has been king since January. He took over upon the death of his half-brother Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. The country is named after the Saud family and most of its rulers are related to the first monarch, Abdulaziz ibn Saud — Jubeir being an exception.

Nayef, 55, until now deputy crown prince, is well-known to U.S. officials, who have worked with him in battling al-Qaida. Jubeir, a Washington-insider, holds a master's degree from Georgetown University.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new deputy crown prince, dubbed MbS by some Middle East analysts, is more of a mystery. He was appointed defense minister in January and has taken a hawkish line in Yemen.

Not well known by Americans who observe the kingdom, he is thought to be in his late 20s or early 30s.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described MbS as "extremely knowledgeable, focused and engaged," according to Politico.

"I think we're trying to form a relationship, but I suspect we find it challenging," said Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. MbS has been characterized as a "ruthless political operator," according to Henderson.

"He's clearly the one that we have to try and relate to, but there's no evidence that we've succeeded," Henderson told Politico.

The Saudis — like the Israelis — oppose the Obama administration's approach to the Iranian nuclear program. Riyadh was also disappointed by President Barack Obama's handling of the Syrian civil war and by his tolerance toward the now overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

The leaders who are being eased aside include Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who held his job for 40 years, and the 70-something Crown Prince Muqrin, who was a protégé of the previous king.

Also getting the ax is Norah al-Fayez, the highest-ranking female in the government, according to the BBC.

The regime faces external threats from Persian Iran and Shiite militants in the Arab world.

The Saudis embrace an austere form of Sunni Islam, but their security alliance with the U.S. has long made the ruling family a target Sunni extremists — first from al-Qaida and now with the Islamic State group. Nayef was targeted by an al-Qaida suicide bomber in 2009, according to the BBC.

It is not known who Saudi Arabia will send to a mid-May summit at Camp David, at which Obama plans to reassure Arab states of Washington's commitment to their security, according to Politico.

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The decision by Saudi Arabia's King Salman to appoint his nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as the new heir apparent caught some Washington analysts by surprise and was part of a broader change in the ruling elite, Politico reports.
saudi arabia, leaders, Mohammed bin Nayef, Mohammed bin Salman
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2015-28-30
Thursday, 30 April 2015 07:28 AM
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