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Saudi Arabian King Salman appointed his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the kingdom’s prime minister, a move that formalizes the young royal’s role as the country’s de facto ruler, Al Jazeera reported.
No explanation was provided for the crown prince’s appointment, even though the position of prime minister is typically held by the Saudi king. State-run media said King Salman – who remains head of state – will continue to chair the cabinet meetings he attends.
The decision marks another instance of the slow but steady transfer of power in the oil-rich kingdom.
The crown prince – known by his initials MBS – previously served as deputy prime minister and defense minister, but already held a number of portfolios even before Tuesday’s appointment, including oil and the economy.
MBS has presented himself as a reform-minded leader, who aims to turn Saudi Arabia into an investment powerhouse and is attempting to diversify the country’s economy to make it less reliant on oil. He has also curbed the power of the country’s religious clerics and lifted certain restrictions on women, including allowing them to drive.
However, despite his projected image, the 37-year-old crown prince has come under criticism for his crackdown on dissent, including allegations that he ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018.
MBS has denied ordering the journalist’s murder but said in a 2019 interview that he took responsibility for it, according to CBS News.
Meanwhile, analysts told the Guardian that MBS is facing a potentially damaging lawsuit by Khashoggi’s fiancée in the US over the crown prince’s role in the murder.
A US judge had requested the Biden administration to rule on whether the crown prince should be granted sovereign immunity. A world leader, such as a prime minister or a monarch, is normally afforded such protection.