RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a government reshuffle announced 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 and defense minister.
He is being replaced as defense minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was deputy defense minister.
The heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign and energy, remained in their posts, according to a royal decree by King Salman published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Prince Mohammed, who turned 37 last month, has been first in line to succeed his ailing father as king since 2017.
Saudi Arabia has tried for years to quell speculation about the health of the 86-year-old king, who has ruled 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 for 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 his rapid consolidation of power.
In that role, he oversaw Saudi military activities in Yemen, where the kingdom is leading a coalition backing the internationally recognized government in its fight against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
She 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 movie theaters, welcoming foreign tourists, defanging religious police and host pop stars and high-profile heavyweight boxing matches and other sporting events.
However, he has also jailed critics and, in a sweeping purge of the nation’s elite, detained and threatened some 200 princes and businessmen at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a 2017 anti-corruption campaign that tightened his grip on power. .
He gained global notoriety for the 2018 assassination of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Last year, President Biden declassified an intelligence report that found Prince Mohammed had approved the operation against Khashoggi, a claim Saudi authorities deny.
But the rise in energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted several Western leaders to travel to Saudi Arabia to call for more oil production, notably Boris Johnson, then Britain’s prime minister, and Mr. Biden, who swallowed an earlier promise to make the Saudi leadership a “pariah.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany became the latest major leader to visit the kingdom last weekend.