Saudi King Salman, 79, in Riyadh on Tuesday.
An internal political storm is roiling Saudi Arabia, as the crown prince and his deputy jockey for power under an aging King Salman — while some other members of the royal family agitate on behalf of a third senior prince who they claim would have wider family support.
For the secretive oil kingdom, whose internal debates are usually opaque to outsiders, the recent strife has been unusually open. The tension between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and his deputy, Mohammed bin Salman (the king’s son), is gossiped about across the Arab world. Dissenters from the royal family have begun circulating open letters that have drawn tens of thousands of readers online.
Succession worries were in the background in early September when Salman, 79, visited Washington , accompanied by son Mohammed bin Salman, 30. U.S. officials were eager to meet the young deputy crown prince. But they were concerned that “MBS,” as he’s known, might be challenging Mohammed bin Nayef, who is viewed in Washington as a reliable ally against al-Qaeda.
Mohammed bin Salman’s supporters argue that he’s an ambitious change agent in a kingdom that needs one — after suffering from decades of aging, defensive leaders. The young prince urges more diversification of the economy, greater privatization, and a future that’s closer to the more open model of the United Arab Emirates than to the conservative House of Saud. He is said to have engaged top U.S. consulting firms in framing his modernization plans.