Saudi king upends royal succession

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HRH Crown Prince congratulated King Salman on the choice of HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, as well as his appointment as Deputy Premier.

While the timing was unexpected, the move itself was not: The new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been consolidating his power over the past two years at the expense of his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, who formerly had been ahead of him in succession.

In televised images released by the state's channel, Mohammed bin Salman, the former deputy crown prince, greeted his predecessor and said: "I will never give up your advice".

This step of removing a crown prince was in itself unprecedented, and set in motion MBS' rapid ascension through the ranks, and Mohammed bin Nayef's dismissal this week. That visit helped lay the foundation for the president's visit to Saudi Arabia in May, making the kingdom his first global stop.

Born in Jeddah in 1985, Salman is the eldest son of King Salman and his third wife.

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Another young prince also ascended to power on Wednesday.

After Prince Mohammed's elevation was announced, Saudi Arabia's stock market surged more than 3 per cent in early trade.

The newly-minted crown prince also raised eyebrows when he ruled out any chance of dialogue with Iran. In an apparent attempt to appease the family, the decree had a clause that made it clear that Prince Mohammed bin Salman will not be allowed to appoint one of his own sons as his successor.

A statement Wednesday afternoon on the state-run WAM news agency said UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan all offered their congratulations.

Offering assurances of a continuation of these policies is a key motivation behind Wednesday's reshuffle, according to Andrew Hammond, a researcher at Oxford University now writing a book about Saudi Arabia. "The strengthening of relations with the Trump administration is the beginning of a new and optimistic time between Saudi Arabia and regional states, including Israel and the Jewish people".

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And his personal antipathy towards Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, did not bode well for Nayef, as bin Zayed and MBS became increasingly close.

The decision has been described by many analysts as a surprising move, although rumors about a power struggle between King Salman and Prince Nayef had surfaced.

The royal decree issued Wednesday stated that "a majority" of senior royal members from the so-called Allegiance Council supported the recasting of the line of succession. Saudi Arabia's net foreign exchange reserves peaked at almost $750bn in 2014 before oil prices crashed.

Yemen represents a proxy war between the two regional powerhouses, with Riyadh supporting the ousted government against Iranian-backed Houthi forces.

Some fear that Prince Mohammed's changes will simply serve to cause social ruptures or that however clever his policy changes, deep seated problems in Saudi bureaucracy will prevent any meaningful implementation.

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Prince bin Salman's profile has risen in recent years, and his vast portfolio and youth led some to draw comparisons to another powerful son (-in-law) Jared Kushner.

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