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What to Make of the Saudi Shake-up


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The king has scrambled the line of succession.

Elliott Abrams

June 21, 2017


On Wednesday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia pushed aside his heir-apparent, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, and moved his own son Mohamed bin Salman into that spot. He also removed Mohamed bin Nayef (known as MbN) from his powerful post as interior minister, meaning that MbN’s days in the sun are entirely over.

What’s up? Why did this happen, and what comes next?

Here are a few key points.


First, it has been obvious since King Salman ascended to the throne in January 2015 that he wanted his son Mohamed bin Salman (known as MbS) to succeed him. The young man was the apple of his eye, and was immediately named deputy crown prince. The question was whether the aged king — now 81 and in questionable health — would live long enough to elevate young MbS, who was then only 29 and is now 31. The danger, for the king, has been that he would die suddenly, and that MbN would ascend to the throne and remove his cousin MbS from the line of succession. This week the king decided that waiting is not smart: Why take chances? Perhaps there is a saying in Arabic that resembles “God helps those who help themselves.”



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