The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has been widely expected ever since he was appointed deputy crown prince in April 2015.

Although Prince Mohammed bin Nayef al-Saud was promoted from deputy crown prince to crown prince at the same time (replacing Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz), the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman and him officially joining the line of succession was regarded as the more significant move.

Subsequent events have confirmed that view. Over the past two years, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has led many of Saudi Arabia’s key policies; as defence minister he has led the military campaign in Yemen, and as deputy crown prince he has driven Vision 2030, which promises to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and end its dependence on hydrocarbons.

He has also given high-profile interviews with international, regional and local media outlets, and has discussed the challenges he feels Saudi Arabia must confront with a degree of openness hitherto unseen in the kingdom.

While Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to the position of crown prince has been regarded as inevitable, his appointment comes at a tense time for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC. On 5 June, Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE and Bahrain, broke off diplomatic relations with Doha and imposed a trade embargo on Qatar.

In recent weeks there has been talk within the kingdom that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had favoured a different approach for dealing with the Qatar issue, and his removal from the position of crown prince at this time will only reinforce the view that there has been a difference in opinion when it comes to dealing with Doha.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s removal also comes shortly after the visit in May of US President Donald Trump to Riyadh. In the past, the prince, who worked closely with the US when fighting Al-Qaeda, was regarded a key link in relations between Riyadh and Washington.

After Trump’s visit to Riyadh, in which Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who had earlier visited Washington – played a leading role, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s relations with Washington may not be considered as valuable as they once were.

With the king’s son leading relations with Washington, he has his hands on the key levers of power within the kingdom, and as crown prince, he is now next in line to be the ruler of Saudi Arabia.