With the announcement Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef becomes next in line to the Saudi throne, and the King’s own son Defense Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in line after him, Saudi Arabia’s ruler King Salman has at a stroke modernized the face of the monarchy.
The question is: In preparing the monarchy for the future, has King Salman modernized the country?
Saudi is typical for the Gulf – by far the majority of its population is under 30 years old.
But elsewhere in the region, younger leaders are increasingly the norm. Qatar is a point in case. The current Emir is just 35 years old, and his father was in his early 60s when he was ousted two years ago.
And yet in Saudi Arabia, since the country’s founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, died in 1953, only his sons have been King – passing the throne brother to brother, resulting an aging monarchy in an evermore youthful region.
Now, the next in line to the throne are from the “next” generation: nephew and son of the King. That is significant and seems in line with Saudi Arabia’s changing role in the region.
The Arab Spring of 2011 saw the youthful Qataris get out ahead of bigger neighbor Saudi Arabia, throwing money and influence at a multitude of causes. The Saudis were to a degree caught flat-footed, slow to respond to regional turmoil and protect their interests.
But over the past couple of years the last King – King Abdullah – ramped up defense and security spending, setting the stage for a more muscular foreign policy.
Under the new King and his two Crown Princes, Saudi Arabia has flexed that muscle in Yemen, with as many as 100 bombing sorties a day for over a month hitting Houthis and army units loyal to Yemen’s ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali al Khamenei was quick to criticize, targeting, what else, but age: “Despite disputes, Saudis used to display composure with us, but now inexperienced youngsters have come to power and replaced composure with barbarism.”
That was early April before the recent reshuffle. So, far from recoiling at sharp barbs over youth, the Saudis seem to wear the criticism as a badge of honor.
In a country where change happens so slowly, these new appointments, if not altogether unexpected, are a sign of a more outward looking future.