At 31, the country’s new heir could have a long reign ahead of him. The reverberations are likely to be felt far beyond its borders
Everyone knew Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman was a young man in a hurry. Every step necessary for his advancement had been made in the two years since his father assumed the kingdom’s throne. Some judged him to be already the country’s de facto ruler. But at 31 his public triumph has come perhaps a little more quickly than anticipated. This week King Salman made him crown prince, supplanting his vastly more experienced cousin Mohammed bin Nayef. The new heir’s elevation has erased the kingdom’s image as a cautious, rather dull gerontocracy (the horizontal system of succession has passed rule from brother to brother; even his former rival looked young at 57).
Change is long overdue, and some have applauded the new crown prince as an energetic reformer. But it is clear he has no plans to meddle with the country’s nature as an absolute monarchy intolerant of dissent, let alone challenge the foundational partnership between the House of Saud and conservative Wahhabi clerics. Saudi’s religious leadership – according to reports – has been vocal in recent days about protecting autocracy from democracy. And the dramatic economic and foreign initiatives he has spearheaded have had dismal results.