RIYADH, July 24, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia’s King Salman left for holiday abroad on Monday and appointed his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to run the affairs of the world’s top oil exporter in his absence, a royal decree said.
It is standard practice for Gulf leaders to hand over control to their deputy during travel abroad, but it is the first time Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, has officially taken on the role since his sudden ascent to crown prince last month.
His promotion, replacing his 57-year-old cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, ended two years of speculation about behind-the-scenes rivalry near the pinnacle of royal power.
The agency did not say where the king was travelling or how long he would be absent. But an Arab diplomat said he was expected to spend his holiday in Morocco.
The king’s decree posted on Saudi state news agency SPA said the crown prince would be in charge of “managing state affairs and taking care of the interests of the people during the period of our absence from the Kingdom.”
The movements of the 81-year-old monarch and other senior royals in the US-allied, top oil exporter are closely watched because of their immense executive power.
Apart from his role as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman also serves as defence minister and leads an ambitious reform agenda to end Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil.
On June 21, King Salman stripped the title of crown prince from his nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, naming 32-year-old Prince Mohammed, often known as MBS, as heir to the throne.
The crown prince has earned a reputation as a reformist in the ultra-conservative kingdom but is seen by some as lacking experience.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, a key US ally and the world’s largest oil exporter, heads an alliance that last month cut ties with Qatar over accusations Doha was too close to Saudi rival Iran and bankrolled Islamist extremist groups.
Qatar has denied the allegations.
The suspension of diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar has sparked the largest crisis to ever hit the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).