King Salman of Saudi Arabia has “ousted” his nephew as crown prince and replaced him with his favourite son, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, says Martin Chulov in The Guardian. The move stunned the Saudi establishment, which has watched the young prince’s influence soar since his 81-year-old father became king in January 2015. It is the latest big change in the conservative kingdom, which in recent weeks has recalibrated relations with the US and launched a diplomatic offensive against Qatar. This is all against a backdrop of an “ambitious economic and cultural overhaul” at home and a war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is fighting Shia rebels it believes are backed by Iran.
Mohammed bin Salman, nicknamed “Mr Everything” by foreign diplomats, has played a key part in these changes. The “colourful, aggressive, ambitious, impulsive and internationally minded” prince has imported Western advisers to create “Vision 2030”, a programme of reforms aimed at weaning the economy off oil, and getting young Saudis to work for a living, says Richard Spencer in The Times.
But critics are alarmed by the situations in Yemen and Qatar. Mohammed bin Salman’s willingness to compromise here will be a “telling marker” of his “political nous”, and of whether the “war of words” between Saudi and Iran will “escalate into conflict or be resolved into a working relationship”. Meanwhile, the crown prince will start playing an “even more influential role” in oil markets at a time when the major oil producers are “struggling to prop up prices”, says Stanley Reed in The New York Times.
He has brought in bankers to arrange an initial public offering of national oil company, Aramco. Backers say he will use the kingdom’s “most valuable export” to diversify the economy. Critics, however, say he is inexperienced and unpredictable. Initially he claimed that oil prices didn’t matter, then backed production cuts to shore up prices. Yet with prices “on the slide” since his promotion, the Saudis may be headed “for another crunch”, and “there do not seem to be any good options” left.