Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a government shuffle announced Tuesday. The move effectively formalizes power already wielded by Prince Mohammed, who has been the kingdom's de facto ruler for several years, analysts said. The heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign, 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 first in line to succeed his father as king since 2017. Saudi Arabia has for years sought to quell speculation over the health of the 86-year-old king, who has ruled the world's top oil exporter since 2015. In 2017, it dismissed reports and mounting speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favor of Prince Mohammed. King Salman has been hospitalized twice this year, most recently a one-week 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 swift consolidation of power. In that role, he has overseen Saudi Arabia's military activities in Yemen, where the kingdom leads a coalition backing the internationally recognized government in its fight against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels. He has also become the public face of a sweeping reform agenda known as Vision 2030. Changes have included granting women the right to drive, opening cinemas, welcoming foreign tourists, defanging the religious police, and hosting pop stars and high-profile heavyweight fights and other sporting events.