Saudi crown prince takes reins before his accession to the throne

He is in charge of receiving foreign dignitaries and has just led a regional summit. Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman is taking the reins from his elderly father and becomes the de facto king of Saudi Arabia.

With growing concern for the health of 86-year-old King Salman, 36-year-old Prince Mohamed has taken over presidential meetings and the reception of dignitaries, while his father rarely appears in public.

The prince, known as MBS, has been seen as the de facto president since his appointment as heir to the throne in June 2017. His rising profile became apparent when he met French President Emmanuel Macron in December and led the Council’s summit. of Cooperation of the Gulf last Tuesday.

King Salman did not even appear.

“For a crown prince to be the de facto ruler of the country in meetings with foreign presidents and leading summits only happened when the Saudi kings were in poor health,” Yasmine Farouk of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told AFP.

“What is new is that there is national and media acceptance of a parallel role, even more important, for the crown prince despite the fact that King Salmán fulfills his tasks,” he added.

Since the start of the pandemic, King Salman has remained in NEOM, the futuristic city on the Red Sea driven by his son.

His last meeting with a foreign leader in Riyadh was in March 2020, when he met then-British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, and his last trip abroad was to Oman to offer condolences on the death of Sultan Qabus in January 2020. .

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Prince Mohamed has sought to position himself as a moderate Islamic leader, despite the blow to his reputation with the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

MBS opened Saudi Arabia to tourism and foreign investment to diversify the economy of the world’s largest oil producer.

He spearheaded profound social changes, such as allowing women to drive and work in the public sector, allowing people to earn additional income, and opening recreational sites across the country.

But alongside these changes there has been a crackdown on dissent and free expression.

He even seems more open to Israel than his father, allowing planes from that country to fly over Saudi airspace.

According to Kristin Diwan of the Gulf Arab States Institute in Washington, the prince has benefited from the king’s longevity.

“His constant presence conveys a traditional authority that covers MBS youth and unconventional actions, without really impeding them,” Diwan told AFP.

Saudi authorities did not say why the Saudi king did not attend Tuesday’s summit, especially after he delivered a message on television about the national budget days earlier.

But Saudi government adviser Ali Shihabi said the king is fine and is being cautious.

“Reliable sources confirm that the king is in excellent health, exercises daily, etc, but he is 86 years old and he is uncomfortable wearing a mask, he tends to shake hands and greet people warmly, so extra care has been taken to maintain him. safe and away from public gatherings, “Shihabi tweeted on Wednesday.

– Rivals sent off –

Prince Mohamed undertook a tour of the Gulf before the summit and met with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“Any agreement with the royal court is only made through the crown prince’s office,” a Western diplomat who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

“The king is no longer present … (MBS) is no longer a king in training, he is the king in the palace,” he added.

His path to the throne has long been clear, with no visible obstacles after he eliminated all of his rivals.

“There is no clear source of effective opposition within or outside the royal family,” said Hussein Ibish, a Washington-based Middle East specialist.

He added that “MBS becomes more relevant and powerful.”

Despite concerns that the international community does not want to deal with the prince, especially after Khashoggi’s assassination, a diplomat in Riyadh said such fears “dissipated after Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia.”

US President Joe Biden promised to be tougher than his predecessor, Donald Trump, and has not communicated directly with the crown prince, but his administration made it clear that such contact will be inevitable.

“It is a matter of time,” anticipated the diplomat who requested anonymity.


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