Saudi prince makes history with audacious reforms and bold attempts to elevate nation. At the age of 32, not many people would have already earned their place in the history of their countries. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (or MBS as he is known) is an exception. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is the most prominent member of the Saudi Royal Family and future King of Saudi Arabia. Prince Mohammed was born to King Salman and Fahda bint Falah, the King’s third spouse, in 1985. The Prince is a direct descendant of the Sudairi tribe which heavily influences and shapes the current political landscape of the Kingdom. The Prince graduated with a bachelor degree in law from King Saud University.
Prince Mohammed’s rise to one of the most important positions in the Kingdom has been hasty, and has occupied in several key posts in in the Kingdom during a relatively short time. When his father, at the time the Crown Prince, became Defence Minister, Prince Mohammed moved with him and acted as his Private and Special Advisor, in what would be a preview of his later role.
Prince Mohammed was appointed President of the Crown Prince’s Court by the father in the rank of Minister taking over from Saud bin Nayef, who moved to occupy Eastern Province governorship post on 25 April 2014. The Prince was also made State Minister at this time.
Prince Mohammed became Minister of Defence at 30 years of age. The Prince took over the defence ministry portfolio at the same age as his predecessor, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who was the first to occupy the office at the same age and served in the position until he became crown Prince in 2011.
Prince Mohammed was appointed Minister of Defence and named the Secretary General of the Royal Court on 23 January 2015 when the father ascended to the throne as the new King of Saudi Arabia. The Prince was also assigned chief of Royal Protocol and special advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on January 23 2015. In addition Prince Mohammed’s previous duty as Minister of State continued to run concurrently with the new appointments.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s position in the military plays a pivotal in sealing the country’s arms deals with foreign powers, worth tens of billions of dollars annually, and has so far involved trips to Russia and the USA, where he took part in Obama’s Camp David summit with the a number of GCC leaders. The Kingdom’s heavy government spending on defence is on target to increase under Prince Mohammed in the near future, based on new contracts he has negotiated with France, the US and UK.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince on 21 June 2017, following his father’s decision to remove Muhammad bin Nayef from the position, making the Prince heir to the throne. The change of succession had been predicted by many experts on the royal family after the then Deputy Crown Prince showed great leadership as head of the Saudi Military.
The Prince was named chair of the newly established Council for Economic and Development Affairs four days after his appointment as Defence Minister, on 29 January 2015. The newly created Council for Economic and Development Affairs replaced the disbanded Supreme Economic Commission.
Prince Mohammed spearheads various youth oriented philanthropic groups in the Kingdom, and is known as both a kind and charitable individual. The Prince currently chairs Prince Salman Youth Centre and is the Secretary General of the Riyadh Competitiveness Centre, which both do important youth work in the community. The Prince always accompanies the father on local and foreign travels, and is currently in Tangier, Morocco with King Salman and the other accompanying Princes and members of Government.
He has transformed his nation; the historic decision to allow Saudi women to drive is attributed to him, as are countless economic reforms now sweeping the kingdom with the speed of a proverbial desert storm. Like all radical reformers, MBS’ actions attract both praise and criticism. Some regard him as Saudi Arabia’s greatest hope, while others dismiss the new crown prince as just an inexperienced youngster in a hurry. Be that as it may, there is no question that the man who may soon also become the Arab world’s youngest head of state will determine not only the future of his country but also, potentially, that of the entire region.
When Prince Mohammad was born, there was nothing to suggest that he would ever rise above the rank of a secondary Saudi royal, destined to be paid a stipend to remain quiet and cooperative, and expected to divide his time between granting audiences to tribal leaders and discreet shopping expeditions to London, Paris or New York. For while MBS was born to Salman – one of Saudi Arabia’s famed Sudayri Seven, the sons of Abdulaziz, the kingdom’s founder – and could expect to see his father become king one day, the succession order was already established, and MBS was not on the list. The throne was supposed to go to a completely different Mohammad, the son of Prince Nayef, another scion of the Sudayri Seven.
But the unthinkable happened; by 2015, MBS was already deputy crown prince to the older Mohammad. And in a move which has astonished even seasoned Saudi observers, his father King Salman appointed MBS next in line to the throne in June this year. The move not only broke with precedent but also riled the United States, which supported the older Mohammad, widely regarded in Western capitals as an efficient administrator and the architect of the desert kingdom’s successful anti-terrorism strategy. And MBS, who clearly enjoys his father’s total support, has wasted no time tearing up many of his kingdom’s traditional ways. He is behind the so-called “Vision 2030”, a sweeping pledge to develop Saudi Arabia as a centre for business, trade and tourism.
He is also planning to sell a stake in Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company. The strategy is clearly right; the kingdom needs to move away from its oil-based economy. But, as critics point out, it is not obvious that the Crown Prince, who has surrounded himself with Western management consultants, understands that the key to economic reform is a deeper social reform. Without overhauling the education system and harnessing the potential of the female half of the population, few of these diversification efforts can succeed.
The prince is also suffering from the traditional problem facing all his country’s previous reformers: when oil prices are high nobody wants change, but when oil prices are low and changes are needed, there are no resources to implement reform. MBS has already had to withdraw plans to cut benefits for public sector employees, and statistics just published indicate that the Saudi economy had shrunk by 1.8 per cent in the second quarter this year, the second such successive contraction.
MBS has attracted even more criticism with his foreign policy choices. He is assumed to be behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to get involved in the war in Yemen, a quagmire with no end. He is also suspected of inspiring his father’s decision to impose an embargo on Qatar, in an effort to reassert Saudi Arabia’s primacy in the region. Still, much of this criticism obscures the fact that the young prince appears to be genuinely popular in a country in which over half of the population is under the age of 25, yet all of its monarchs had come to the throne in their dotage, and often infirm.
The decision to allow women to drive may seem a small matter, but it is a huge development in a nation where, until fairly recently, women were not even required to be registered in identity papers, as they were merely considered the property of their families. Oblivious to critics, Salman is determined to see his favourite son succeed him; the current king is rumoured to be preparing his abdication soon, to make sure that he is still around to protect MBS as he accedes to the throne. And there is little doubt about the Saudi Crown Prince’s determination. I’m young, and most of our citizens are young, he recently reminded Western journalists. We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years; we want to end this now.