Simon Henderson writes: The latest Saudi transition had been predictable since soon after King Salman ascended the throne on the death of his older half-brother Abdullah in January 2015. Within three months, Salman had positioned Muhammad bin Salman, the eldest son of his third wife, as his intended eventual successor. The only question was when the transition would occur. It has now happened, although raising new questions: When will MbS, as he is known, become king in name and under what circumstances?
Those answers are hard to guess, but the king’s now-dismissed predecessor, Muhammad bin Nayef, or MbN, was long perceived by many as a stopgap. Additionally, although an experienced minister of interior and the kingdom’s counterterrorism chief, he was scarred by the 2009 experience of having a supposedly surrendering jihadist meet him wearing a rectal device.
King Salman’s own health is also uncertain. At eighty-one, he walks with a cane and, when meeting foreign leaders, sits before a computer screen to remind him of his talking points. Once reputed to be the House of Saud’s institutional memory, Salman now often displays a puzzled visage and has leaned increasingly on MbS for advice, apparently regarding him as almost a reincarnation of King Abdulaziz, known as Ibn Saud, Salman’s father and the founder in 1932 of Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]