Why has Mohammed bin Salman been appointed prime minister of Saudi Arabia?
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s being named prime minister does not change the internal power equation of the Kingdom, where he remains de facto ruler. But experts say the move comes to cloak MBS in legal immunity ahead of a lawsuit in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has named his son and heir Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as prime minister of the Kingdom.
State news agency SPA reported that the reshuffle by royal decree kept Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman as energy minister, while foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan and investment minister Khalid al-Falih all retained their positions.
But why has MBS been appointed prime minister now?
Let’s take a closer look:
It is important to note that MBS is already the de facto ruler of the Kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter and a key US ally in West Asia.
The 86-year-old king has been hospitalised several times over the past two years for various ailments.
The custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, the king became ruler in 2015 after spending over 2-1/2 years as crown prince.
So internally, the power equation remains the same.
But experts say there is another factor at play – that the move comes to cloak MBS in legal immunity ahead of a lawsuit in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born US resident known for writing critical articles about the kingdom’s rulers for Washington Post.
The murder of the Washington Post writer in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018 tarnished MBS’ reputation and strained the kingdom’s relations with the United States and other Western allies.
MBS has denied anything to do with Khashoggi’s murder, though US intelligence agencies found that he likely ordered the killing.
As per The Guardian, a US judge has placed the Biden administration in a tough position by asking its view of whether MBS ought to be protected by sovereign immunity in a case brought by the fiancee of Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz.
Such protection is usually granted to a world leader, such as a prime minister or a king, the piece noted.
As per Daily O, the move also prevents MBS from being arrested or facing any legal challenges while travelling abroad.
The court had asked for the Biden government’s reply in July 2022, but the response was delayed. District court judge John Bates then set 3 October as the deadline for the response, as per the report.
“It seems like [Prince Mohammed] has been advised to take this step before the response of the Biden administration was due on 3 October,” Abdullah Alaoudh, the Gulf director at Dawn, a pro-democracy group based in Washington, and party to the Khashoggi lawsuit told The Guardian. “Practically, [becoming prime minister] makes no difference.”
However, a Saudi denied this any such motive behind the move.
The official, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters MBS’ new role is in line with the king’s previous delegation of duties to him, including representing the kingdom on foreign visits and chairing summits hosted by the kingdom.
King Salman will still preside over the Cabinet meetings he attends, the decree showed. After the decree was made, state TV showed the king chairing a weekly cabinet meeting.
“HRH the crown prince, based on the king’s orders, already supervises the main executive bodies of the state on a daily basis, and his new role as prime minister is within that context,” said the official.
Historically, such delegation of duties has taken place in the kingdom several times, the official added.
Prince Khalid bin Salman, MBS’s younger brother, previously served as deputy defence minister.
The crown prince said the kingdom has increased its self-sufficiency in military industries to 15 per cent from 2 per cent and plans to reach 50 per cent under the newly appointed defence minister, SPA reported.
Crown Prince Mohammed has changed Saudi Arabia radically since rising to power in 2017, leading efforts to diversify the economy from its dependence on oil, allowing women to drive and curbing clerics’ powers.
His reforms, however, have come with a crackdown on dissent, with activists, royals, women rights’ activists and businessmen jailed.
US president Joe Biden had, during his campaign to become commander-in-chief taken a strong line against Saudi Arabia, saying the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi had made the country a “pariah.”
Biden had pledged as a candidate to recalibrate the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, after Trump’s more accommodating stand, overlooking the kingdom’s human rights record and stepping up military sales to Riyadh.
However, rising gas prices forced Biden to recalibrate his stance, with him visiting the Kingdom and ‘elbow-bumping’ MBS to the consternation of some.
Biden had even defended his trip beforehand, of all places, in the Washington Post.
“In Saudi Arabia, we reversed the blank-check policy we inherited” from former president Donald Trump, Biden wrote. “From the start, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations,” he added.
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” the 79-year-old Democrat continued, vowing “fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda” when he makes foreign visits.
With inputs from agencies
IEDs kill more people each year than any other explosive ordnance - accounting for 43 per cent of all global civilian casualties from explosive weapons. The IED used in Mangaluru was made by placing explosive material inside a pressure cooker and fastening a blasting cap to its lid
A statement issued by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in India informed the decision has been taken as part of efforts of the two countries to further strengthen bilateral ties
Saudi Arabia sports minister claims kingdom would back private bids for Manchester United, Liverpool
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal added that the kingdom would also be interested in hosting the FIFA World Cup in the future and even become a new home for clubless superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.