For the third time this year, the royal court of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been shaken up. This suggests there is unease in the royal family and discontent with the leadership of King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman.
At the start of this week, King Salman removed the chief of the Royal Court, Hamad bin Abdul Aziz Al Suwailem, and replaced him with Minister of State Khaled bin Abdulrahman Al Issa. The chief of the Royal Court is the gatekeeper to the inner sanctum of the palace, the equivalent of the White House chief of staff. In Salman’s system, his court is combined with that of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef—giving the post even more authority. The Royal Court chief is a crucial position.
No explanation was given for the change, which came as Ramadan comes to an end. It’s the third time this year the office has changed hands.
Salman also appointed one of the sons of his predecessor King Abdallah to be a governor. Prince Mishal bin Abdallah had been governor of Mecca until his father died and he was replaced. Now Mishal is governor of the northern frontier province which borders on Iraq, a less prestigious but still important job. Salman also appointed a new housing minister.
The changes in the court come amidst widespread rumors that the family is unhappy with the power the king has given his son, Minister of Defense and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. At only 29 years old, Prince Salman is in charge of the Saudi war effort in Yemen. The war is bogged down and efforts to arrange a humanitarian pause failed when Saudi air attacks on the Houthi rebels continued despite calls by the United Nations for a truce. Muhammad bin Salman was his father’s court chief at the beginning of this year, a position that he exploited very successfully.
Now there are accusations that the prince has ignored professional military advice and is over his head. With no military experience or education, Muhammad bin Salman is vulnerable to charges that he has stumbled into a war without a strategy for victory.