ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Saudi Arabia is setting the stage for a new generation to rule the kingdom. The country's recently-crowned King Salman, himself in his 70s, has named his successors. He says his nephew will follow him and next in line, a young son. It's not just about palace or family intrigue. It could also indicate some changes in how that pivotal, oil-rich Mideast power interacts with the rest of the world. NPR's Leila Fadel is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and joins us now. And Leila, this was a big surprise. What's so groundbreaking about this announcement?
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, really for decades now, we've seen the sons of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, pass power from one to another. And these are really aging men. Most of them are dead now. So this marks the first time we're seeing the younger generation of this monarchy - 55 and below - rise to the top of the structure. And it's really a delicate balance because there are thousands of princes in that generation. And so it will be delicate to please all sides of the family. And right now, what appears to be happening is that King Salman is securing top positions for his branch of the family.
SIEGEL: So who is this new-crowned prince, one among thousands, as you say, of princes in his generation who's next in line to the throne? And who's the new deputy crown prince in line behind him?
FADEL: The crown prince is King Salman's nephew, Mohamed bin Nayef, and he's a really well-known figure inside Saudi Arabia, but also internationally. He's worked very closely with the U.S. on counterterrorism issues as the minister of interior. He's seen as a really tough enforcer on perceived criminals. And now, like you said, he's the first of his generation to be heir-apparent to the throne.
SIEGEL: And the deputy crown prince, the son of the king?
FADEL: Now, he's much more of an enigma. He's one of King Salman's younger sons. He's extremely young, actually. Some estimate he's just 29 years old. And he's the face of Saudi's war on Yemen as defense minister. And he's really been celebrated here in Saudi Arabia as someone willing to take a tough stance to protect the state. And he's clearly favored by his father, King Salman, because he does have older brothers, but Mohammed bin Salman is now second in line for the throne.
SIEGEL: So what does this newly-announced line of succession - what does it say about Saudi Arabia today?
FADEL: Well, first, it clearly marks a shift toward a more independent foreign policy because of what we saw with the Saudi-led air campaign against Yemen. Those involved in that air campaign were rewarded in today's shakeup. And it's also clear that there is a lot of power concentrated in the position of crown prince and deputy crown prince. They're both aggressive when it comes to issues of security and foreign policy, and they chair extremely powerful committees that oversee all of Saudi's economic and security issues.
SIEGEL: King Salman also removed the top-serving woman from the Saudi government today. What does that say to you?
FADEL: Well, at this point, it's really too early to tell. The woman that was dismissed was the deputy minister of education. And she was removed, but we don't know why. Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative country where men and women don't mix. Women don't drive, and they have to cover by law. And there were some signs of that being relaxed a little bit under the last king, although there was very little room for dissent. So what's unclear now is if King Salman will continue in that direction or revert back to a more conservative platform.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Thank you, Leila.
FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.