Saudi king empowers son in royal shake-up

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, said the king's decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle between his son and Mohammed bin Nayef by setting the line of succession out clearly.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was elevated to crown prince on Wednesday, replacing his cousin in a sudden announcement that confirms King Salman's 31-year-old son as next ruler of the world's leading oil exporter.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, for years the kingdom's counter-terrorism chief who put down an al Qaeda campaign of bombings in 2003-06, is relieved of all positions, the decree said.

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A public pledge of allegiance to the new crown prince is scheduled for Wednesday evening; in a video that was posted shortly after the change was announced, the two princes are seen greeting each other and exchanging pleasantries.

The Saudi monarch, who holds near absolute powers, quickly awarded his son expansive powers to the surprise of many within the royal family who are more senior and more experienced than Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS. For an older generation, Saudi television coverage was highly orchestrated, with repeated footage of Nayef, the deposed crown prince, pledging allegiance to his successor. He had previously been the second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long suspected his rise to power under his father's reign might also accelerate his ascension to the throne.

"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.

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Saudi Arabia was joined by Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month in severing relations with Qata. Both countries have been engaged in proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and support for oppositions in respective countries.

The Saudi stock market has closed up over 5.5 percent after news that King Salman appointed his 31-year-old son as next in line to the throne. Despite his longstanding Washington ties, it was Mohammed bin Salman, who embarked on major overseas visits, including a trip to the White House to meet Trump in March. As minister, Mohammed bin Salman has spearheaded the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Rights groups say Saudi forces have killed scores of civilians and have called on the United States, as well as the UK and France, to halt the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen war.

Even in May 2017, during an interview with an Arab TV channel, the new crown prince said, "We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran, and not in Saudi Arabia".

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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. He also played a central role in the decision to isolate Qatar, in part because of its ties to Iran, and in escalating the Saudi-led war against Yemeni rebels supported by Tehran.

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