When Prince Muqrin, the youngest son of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, was removed from his position as the head of the Saudi intelligence agency in July 2012, it was expected that his political career was coming to an end.

Instead, six months later he has been named second deputy prime minister, making him second in line to the throne. With many older brothers still alive, Prince Muqrin’s appointment was unexpected. But by elevating him to such a senior role, King Abdullah has made a canny move.

As a loyal friend of the king, the prince is considered a safe pair of hands to continue the cautious reforms that have seen the kingdom open up to limited foreign investment, economic diversification, the loosening of certain restrictions on women, and limiting the power of the religious police. The move will provide breathing space for King Abdullah’s reforms to become institutionalised.

By elevating Prince Muqrin to such a senior role, King Abdullah has made a canny move

However, Prince Muqrin does not yet have the authority to shape an agenda of his own. It is also unclear how ambitious he really is, or if he is taking this role due to his friendship with the king. The prince’s appointment also draws an end to the line of succession going through the first generation of the Al-Sauds. It forces the wider family to focus more on the pressing need for agreement on how the transition of power to the next generation should be handled.

Prince Muqrin’s appointment reassures the Al-Saud family that if something happens to the king and Crown Prince Salman, the line of succession will not skip to King Abdulaziz’s grandsons. But it also sends a signal that this shift must happen soon. Prince Muqrin is in a good position to mediate between the various factions of the Al-Saud family as they navigate this issue. His role is really to act as caretaker for the kingdom while a familial consensus is reached. He may not take the throne if that happens quickly.