RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a government shuffle announced Tuesday.
Prince Mohammed, who has already been the kingdom’s de facto ruler for several years, previously served as deputy prime minister under King Salman as well as defense minister.
He is being replaced as defense minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was deputy defense minister.
The heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign and energy, remained in place, according to a royal decree from King Salman published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Prince Mohammed, who turned 37 last month, has been first in line to succeed his ailing father as king since 2017.
Saudi Arabia has for years sought to quell speculation over the health of the 86-year-old king, who has ruled the world’s top oil exporter since 2015.
In 2017, it dismissed reports and mounting speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favor of Prince Mohammed.
King Salman has been hospitalized twice this year, most recently for a one-week stay in May that involved tests including a colonoscopy, according to state media.
Prince Mohammed became defense minister in 2015, a key step in his swift consolidation of power.
In that role he has overseen Saudi Arabia’s military activities in Yemen, where the kingdom leads a coalition backing the internationally recognized government in its fight against the Houthi rebels aligned with Iran.
He has also become the public face of a sweeping reform agenda known as Vision 2030. Changes have included granting women the right to drive, opening cinemas, welcoming foreign tourists, defanging the religious police and hosting pop stars and high-profile heavyweight boxing matches and other sporting events.
Yet he has also jailed critics and, in a sweeping purge of the nation’s elite, detained and threatened some 200 princes and businessmen in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a 2017 anti-corruption crackdown that tightened his grip on power.
He gained global notoriety for the 2018 killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
Last year, President Biden declassified an intelligence report that found Prince Mohammed had approved the operation against Mr. Khashoggi, an assertion the Saudi authorities deny.
But the spike in energy prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurred several Western leaders to travel to Saudi Arabia to appeal for ramped-up oil production, notably Boris Johnson, then prime minister of Britain, and Mr. Biden himself, who swallowed an earlier vow to make the Saudi leadership a “pariah.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany became the latest major leader to visit the kingdom, going there this past weekend.