On 29 April, King Salman bin Abd-al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia – who succeeded to the throne after his half-brother Abdullah had passed away earlier this year – thoroughly shook up his cabinet. Consolidating the power of his own ‘Sudairi’ branch of the royal family, Salman promoted his nephew – current Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef – to Crown Prince and his son – current Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman – to Deputy Crown Prince (second in line to the throne). Interestingly, by side-lining previous Crown Prince Muqrin (another half-brother of Salman), this move is likely to significantly expedite the much-anticipated transition of power to a younger generation of leaders. Indeed, for the first time ever, the next in line to become King is a grandson rather than a son of Saudi Arabia’s first monarch Ibn Saud. Other high-profile changes were also announced, including the appointments of Adel Jaber – the current ambassador to the US and, notably, not a member of the royal family – as Foreign Minister and of Khaled al-Faleh – the current CEO of state oil company Aramco – as Health Minister.

Impact on country risk

Because all factions of the Saudi royal family are primarily committed to preserving stability, King Salman’s reshuffle is unlikely to be openly challenged. That being said, the succession struggle may well flare up again in future, as certain royals gain prominence while others lose popularity. Considering policy direction, the changes signal that the focus on security issues will prevail. Moreover, the promotions of Salman’s nephew and favourite son can be interpreted as an endorsement of their assertive stances as Ministers of Interior and Defence respectively, the former well-known in the US for his bold counter-terrorism efforts and the latter responsible for the recent military intervention in Yemen. As for the ongoing regional proxy wars (not only in Yemen but also in Libya, Syria, Iraq, etc.), this implies that Saudi Arabia is likely to remain a key force to be reckoned with. In this context, the appointment of Adel Jaber as Foreign Minister can be seen as a move to bolster the all-important Saudi defence partnership with the US.

Analyst: Sebastian Vanderlinden, s.vanderlinden@credendogroup.com