Saudi Arabia's Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, a former intelligence chief in the conservative Islamic kingdom, has been appointed deputy crown prince, state television reported on Thursday, making it likely he will one day become king.
The appointment makes Muqrin, the youngest son of the kingdom's founder King Abdulaziz al-Saud, next in line to succeed King Abdullah in the world's top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam after his half-brother Crown Prince Salman.
"Prince Muqrin is granted allegiance as deputy crown prince, a crown prince if the position becomes vacant and to be given allegiance as king of the country if both the positions of crown prince and king become vacant at the same time," the official Saudi Press Agency said, quoting a statement from the royal court.
The announcement gives more assurance to the kingdom's long-term succession process at a time whenRiyadh sees itself as being an island of stability amid conflict and political turmoil across the Middle East.
Muqrin, who trained as a fighter pilot in Britain in his youth, is seen as likely to continue the cautious economic and social reforms begun by King Abdullah, say analysts.
"He reads books. He's into music and art. I think he is from the more moderate school of Saudi politics," said Jamal Khashoggi, head of a television news station owned by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
King Abdullah turned 90 last year and Crown Prince Salman is 78. Muqrin was 70 last year.
Muqrin already holds the position of second deputy prime minister, a role to which he was appointed a year ago and was traditionally but informally seen as being equivalent to crown prince in waiting.
However, there is no formal line of succession in Saudi Arabia beyond the king and crown prince and some analysts had speculated that it would pass to another member of the ruling family. The role of deputy crown prince is a new creation.
Under rules governing the succession, drawn up by King Abdullah a decade ago, a new monarch is empowered to select an heir himself from within the ruling al-Saud family, so long as an internal council agreed to his choice.
Crown Prince Salman and that family body, the Allegiance Council, have accepted Muqrin as the deputy crown prince, SPA reported, indicating he will automatically become Salman's heir when King Abdullah dies.
Muqrin, a graduate of the British Royal Air Force Academy and former military pilot, was born in 1943. He has also been governor of Hail and Medina provinces and a special adviser to King Abdullah.