Saudi King Salman reportedly plans to relinquish power in favor of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has recently launched a self-promotion campaign under the cover of tackling high-level corruption.
Rai al-Youm, an Arab world digital news and opinion website, reported on Wednesday that the king will announce the decision within “the next two nights.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Saudi-owned television news channel Al-Arabiya had announced the news in a Twitter message, but it retracted the post hours later.
Political analysts say the regime in Riyadh is apparently seeking to test the waters and examine public reaction regarding a surprise shift in power.
Since the establishment of Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy in 1932, the system has been effectively known as a hereditary dictatorship and monarchy.
The expected development marks a change in the order of succession in Saudi Arabia from lateral lines of elderly brothers to a vertical order under which the king hands power to his favorite son.
Speculations of King Salman’s possible abdication surfaced in late June, when the monarch deposed his nephew, then deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef as the heir to the throne and offered the position to his favorite son, in what analysts described as a “political earthquake” back then.
On the same day that King Salman replaced bin Nayef with his own son, a well-known Saudi online activist, known on Twitter as @mujtahidd, predicted that King Salman would renounce power in favor of his son.
The whistleblower has already leaked documents indicating high-level corruption inside the Saudi royal family.
In early September, the website of Lebanon’s al-Manar channel reported that the 32-year-old bin Salman had formed a team of aides to prepare the kingdom for celebrating his succession to power as the new king.
The paper quoted sources close to the royal family as saying that King Salman was due to step down over his health issues. The sources then noted that bin Salman had ordered the kingdom’s security officials to increase supervision of royal figures to prevent any coup.
Since replacing his cousin bin Nayef in June, the 32-year-old bin Salman has embarked on a campaign to consolidate power, taking on rivals within the royal family.
Late Saturday, bin Salman sent shockwaves through the kingdom when he fired senior ministers and had dozens of the country’s richest men detained, ostensibly on the grounds of fighting corruption. The arrests included his cousin and one of the world’s richest men, al-Waleed bin Talal.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday voiced serious concern over the recent arrests in Saudi Arabia.
Analysts say the targeting of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing elite represents a shift from family rule to a more authoritarian style of governance based on a single man.
Riyadh has taken on more aggressive policies since bin Salman’s elevation to the position of defense minister and deputy crown prince in 2015, and later to the position of crown prince.
The kingdom is currently struggling with plummeting oil prices. The Al Saud regime also faces criticism over its deadly military campaign against neighboring Yemen, which it launched on March 26. Many also see Riyadh’s policies as a major cause of the crises in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.