When Salman first came to power in January 2015, observers were astonished by the swiftness with which he arranged matters to his liking. His late brother had barely been laid to rest before a series of major announcements reshaped the political landscape, removing some high-profile princes from their posts and installing others in their positions. The reshuffle, though, was broadly welcomed, not least because it gave an unmistakeable assurance that the line of succession was on a steady course, always a constant source of worry for the Kingdom's allies, ever on the lookout for hints of instability. With King Abdallah's choice of Muqrin as crown prince confirmed (and Salman giving every appearance of support for that decision), and the highly-regarded Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayif installed as heir to the heir apparent, the new king was continuing along the path his late brother had set out, or so it seemed.
In light of what was regarded as a vote of confidence in his predecessor's policies, Salman's other choices at the time, such as removing Abdallah's sons Mish'al and Turki and from their governorships in Makkah and Riyadh, seemed less consequential, indulgences allowed and, indeed, expected of a new potentate. Though some grumbling among the losers was inevitable, everyone tacitly understood that a king newly come to power would want to put his stamp on affairs as quickly as possible. Further, since it was widely assumed that Abdallah was favoring his own sons for succession, and that their official positions were more or less grooming for an eventual takeover bid, many in the royal family were secretly relieved by Salman's choices. One potential source of friction, even if years down the road, was at least removed. A family rift between the sons and allies of Abdallah, grown powerful, and Salman's circle, would have been severely disruptive, all the more so given that Mit'ab bin Abdallah still retains control of the National Guard. With Salman's own son Muhammad at the Defense Ministry, perhaps it was best if Mit'ab and his Guard were isolated, the reasoning went. Already Abdallah's circle of allies was small, with many supporters on the fringes of real power anyway. Mit'ab, alone, was no threat. With the bulk of Salman's energies going into reorganizing and streamlining a bloated bureaucracy (to near-universal acclaim), few questioned his wisdom or motives.
However, Salman has now thrown a wrench into the works. Unexpectedly, on April 29, Crown Prince Muqrin was removed and Muhammad bin Nayif given the post. No explanation was given, though the Royal Court said that he had asked to step down. Muqrin, though likeable and competent, had always been an unusual choice. As the son of a Yemeni concubine, there was some debate about whether he was even eligible to take the throne. Muqrin had no full brothers, and with the late king as his sole benefactor, it was an open question if he would survive the transition, at least for any length of time. Nonetheless, Salman had appeared to support Abdallah's decision to make Muqrin the crown prince while he was alive, and there was never any hint of discord at the top. Most likely, then, Salman decided that Muqrin's time as placeholder (the original intent, since it was thought the next generation of princes was still too young and inexperienced to take over), had expired, and the process could be hastened along. Though Abdallah's intent in having a "placeholder" crown prince was undoubtedly to buy time until one of his own sons was ready to move up, the idea would apply equally well to Salman and his designs. As Salman had no objection to his nephew becoming crown prince in place of his half brother Muqrin (in fact, he was an ideal choice, as far as he was concerned, being of the same family sub-branch, the descendants of Hussa al-Sudayri, a favorite wife of the Kingdom's founder Ibn Saud), he simply took the view that Muqrin was no longer needed.