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Riyadh (AFP) – Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a cabinet reshuffle announced on Tuesday.
Prince Mohammed, who has already been the kingdom’s de facto ruler for several years, previously served as deputy prime minister under King Salman as well as defense minister.
He is replaced as defense minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was deputy defense minister.
Heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign affairs and energy, remained in place, according to a royal decree from King Salman published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Prince Mohammed, who turned 37 last month, has been on the front line to succeed his father as king since 2017.
Saudi Arabia has for years sought to quell speculation about the health of the 86-year-old king, who has led the world’s top oil exporter since 2015.
In 2017, he dismissed reports and growing speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favor of Prince Mohammed.
King Salman has been hospitalized twice this year, most recently a week-long stay in May that involved tests, including a colonoscopy, according to state media.
Prince Mohammed became defense minister in 2015, a key step in a rapid consolidation of power.
In that role, he oversaw Saudi Arabia’s military activities in Yemen, where the kingdom leads a coalition supporting the internationally recognized government in its fight against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
He has also become the public face of a sweeping reform agenda known as Vision 2030.
Changes have included giving women the right to drive, opening cinemas, welcoming foreign tourists, dismantling the religious police and welcoming pop stars and high-profile heavyweight fights. level and other sporting events.
Yet he also jailed critics and, in a sweeping purge of the national elite, detained and threatened some 200 princes and businessmen at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel during a 2017 anti-corruption crackdown. who tightened his grip on power.
He gained worldwide notoriety for the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Last year, US President Joe Biden declassified an intelligence report that claimed Prince Mohammed approved the operation against Khashoggi, a claim Saudi authorities deny.
But soaring energy prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a number of Western leaders to visit Saudi Arabia to demand increased oil production, including the British Prime Minister of the time, Boris Johnson, and Biden himself, who swallowed an earlier vow to make Saudi leaders a “pariah”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz became the latest major leader to visit the kingdom last weekend.
© 2022 AFP