Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud is all in favor of bringing new blood into his country’s royal hierarchy, just as long as that blood is his.
In a bold and unprecedented move, Salman reshuffled the royal pecking order last week by demoting his 57-year-old nephew Mohammed bin Nayef from the highly coveted role of crown prince and replacing him with his own son, 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
In a nation that has, since its very conception in 1932, been run as a dynasty of its founder, Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud, and his immediate offspring, the move was seen as revolutionary.
And while there are concerns that the new young heir’s apparent may be a little too liberal and impetuous for a country where women are still not allowed to drive and where cinemas are forbidden, there are those who feel that Mohammed bin Salman might just be the ticket to Saudi Arabia’s much-needed economic and social reform and passport into the 21st century.
In his new role as deputy prime minister (and his continued role as defense minister), it is hoped that Mohammed bin Salman will finally begin to diversify the Saudi economy and wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues.
He has already spearheaded an ambitious program called the Vision 2030 plan to curtail the country’s obsessive reliance on oil as its sole major export, expand public investment by more than 10 times and open up the government-run Aramco oil corporation to private capital.
And he has hinted — ever so carefully — that he is in favor of giving women more rights and a larger role in Saudi society.
But Mohammed bin Salman does have his negative points.
He was the mastermind behind Riyadh’s disastrous proxy military campaign in Yemen, which has left more than 12,000 people — mostly children — dead since March 2015 and turned the poorest country in the region into a grisly no-man’s land on the brink of mass famine.
He is also believed to be one of the main proponents of the savage, six-nation blockade against neighboring Qatar, which is being led by Saudi Arabia.
On the upside, when he is not waging military or economic war against his neighbors, Mohammed bin Salman seems to have a progressive vision regarding global politics.
He has good rapport with U.S. President Donald J. Trump, as well as with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and seems to be more open to the prospect of developing diplomatic ties with Israel. (He has in the last two years met with several high-ranking Israeli officials, albeit discreetly.)
He has already made it clear that he is no friend to Iran and will do whatever it takes to quell radical Islamic groups such as the Islamic State, Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah.
And daddy is making sure that his favorite son is going to have all the elements he needs to carry the family business forward.
In addition to the political upgrade of Mohammed bin Salman, the king has named a slew of faithful young technocrats to key government positions, squeezing out the dead wood of the country’s old guard.
There is no telling when and if Mohammed bin Salman will actually come to power, but the shift away from the clique of an exclusive geriatric class of Al Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud’s bevy of long-in-the-tooth sons to a more progressive-thinking grandson is a positive step for the Land of Sand and Oil, even if it means keeping control all in the family.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.