KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
There has been a sudden change in the leadership in Saudi Arabia. The number two to the throne has been kicked out, and the number three has now moved up to number two. This is how things work in the Saudi monarchy. The new number two is the youngest son of the Saudi king. The person he replaced is his older cousin who had been a widely respected interior minister.
The announcement comes at a time that the Kingdom is facing difficult challenges. To talk about this, we have NPR's Deborah Amos. Hey, Deb.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hey there.
MCEVERS: So this is a sudden change, but is it a surprise?
AMOS: You know, Kelly, the only surprise is the timing. There's been talk about the king's son moving up in this line as soon as King Salman came to power in 2015. What we're looking at is a generational shift in the country with a huge, young population. Mohammad Bin Salman has been amassing power since his father became king. He's the defense minister. He oversees the state oil company. He's working on a plan to overhaul the economy, to move away from the dependence on oil. That's probably his toughest job.
MBS, as he's known, is also the architect of Saudi's disastrous war in Yemen which was sold to Saudis as a quick war that's now dragged on. And that's why many of his critics say that he's inexperienced and impulsive.
MCEVERS: How are Saudis reacting to this change?
AMOS: You know, he's very popular with young Saudis, the majority of the country. They see him as a modernizer. He moved up the power ladder quickly. It's a surprise in a country that has a very traditional idea about older people are supposed to be in power.
Now, the king gave a sweetener to the Saudis. He extended the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, and he gave a pay raise to government workers and the military, which just about covers everybody. This is an absolute monarchy, so the king has absolute power to put his son on the throne, which is what he did. The Saudi newspapers are full of praise.
There was much that was highly orchestrated about this transition. Saudi TV repeatedly aired footage of the ousted crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayef, pledging allegiance to the younger Mohammed bin Salman. And then the Saudi stock market surged now that there's clarity on who's going to be the next king.
MCEVERS: The ouster of Mohammed bin Nayef, though, this former interior minister, now former crown prince - was there resistance to that within the royal family?
AMOS: I think we are not going to know. I talked to a lot of Saudi watchers today, and this stuff never becomes public. He was widely respected for his role in combating al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia. He had great connections in Washington. But Saudi specialists I talked to said they didn't think we'd see anything public. You know, Saudis look around the region, and all they see is chaos. The Kingdom is relatively stable, so why rock that boat?
MCEVERS: How does this shakeup change Saudi policy going forward, in particular its relationship with the U.S.?
AMOS: Policy in the region is likely to be more unpredictable, more aggressive. But there's likely to be one constant that I heard from many Saudi watchers today, and that is a tough stand on Iran. Those are his views on Iran. It's a great and present danger to Saudi Arabia. He believes that Iran needs to be confronted where it challenges the Saudis.
This is a view that's shared by the Trump administration. The young crown prince is said to have a close relationship with President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. I heard today that the two of them arranged the president's trip to the Kingdom communicating through WhatsApp. This crown prince is likely to be king considering his age for decades.
MCEVERS: NPR international correspondent Deborah Amos, thank you very much.
AMOS: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.