Saudi King Salman appointed a nephew as his new heir and made his young son second in line to rule on Wednesday, a major shift in power towards two princes who have overseen a more assertive stance at a time of almost unprecedented regional turmoil.
By making Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, crown prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, 30, deputy crown prince, King Salman has effectively decided the line of succession for decades to come in the world’s top oil exporter.
The announcement means the kingship will pass to a new generation for the first time since 1953, when the throne passed from the founder of the dynasty, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, to the first of six of his sons who have held it since.
The appointments signal a tougher foreign policy, particularly towards regional foe Iran, but little change to a firm hand against dissent at home, where Riyadh this week said it had detained 93 suspected Islamic State terrorists.
In another big shift, Salman replaced veteran Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who had served in the role since October 1975, with the kingdom’s Washington ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, the first non-royal to hold the post.
The new crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, enjoys closer personal ties with U.S. officials than almost any other senior royal, diplomats have said.
He is also a member of the same branch of the royal family as Salman — the Sudairis — which include the present king and descendants of his six full brothers, rather than those of his dozens of half brothers, including his predecessor, King Abdullah, who died in January.
Another half brother, Prince Muqrin, had been in line as successor but is now replaced. The king said the decisions were approved by a majority of the family’s Allegiance Council, a body set up to govern succession.