Prince Mohammed bin Salman Leading Saudi Arabia towards Modernisation

Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz al Saud

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Born in Jeddah on August 31, 1985

Father Salman of Saudi Arabia

Mother Fahda Bint Falah Bin Sultan Bin Hathleen Al-Ajmi

Married Sara Bint Mashoor Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2008

Children Prince Mashhour, Prince Salman, Princess Fahda, Princess Nora

Studied at King Saud University

Began his political journey in 2007 and became full-time adviser to the Council of Ministers

On December 15, 2009, he became a special advisor to his father, the governor of Riyadh

On March 2nd, 2013, Mohammed bin Salman became president of the Crown Prince Court

In April 2015, Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Deputy Crown Prince

In June 21, 2017, he became the Crown Prince

Known as ‘MBS’, Prince Mohammad bin Salman is the king’s favorite son and second in line to take power in Saudi Arabia. MBS, has been consolidating power to an extent not well known until last year. That is when the now 83-year-old King Salman, whose health is deteriorating, placed him in line for the throne, supplanting the king’s nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef.

MBS, though only thirty-two¸ is already one of the most powerful people in the kingdom, has been the minister of defense, chairman of the committee that charted the kingdom’s economy, and second in line to the throne. In a country long ruled by aging kings, MBS is young, tall, and transparently ambitious. Wanting to wean the kingdom from its unsustainable addiction to oil and to diversify its economy, he promised to end the long-standing arrangement of Saudi domestic politics, in which the royal family, and its myriad princes, bought off political opposition by allowing radical Islamists to propagate their creed and even to carry out terrorist acts abroad. MBS was uncompromising in foreign policy, describing the mullahs who presided over Iran as akin to Nazis. The question for many analysts around the world was whether he represented genuine reform or was merely using the language of reform to consolidate power. One thing is sure however, that he has become the one calling the shots with the full support of his father King Salman.

A Quiet Revolution

When Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz succeeded the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in January 2015, Saudis were relieved that the transition of power was a smooth and peaceful one. They had no inkling of the changes that the Kingdom was about to witness. In the context of the most conservative country in the Arab world, where the emphasis has traditionally been on quiet continuity, the developments over the past year and a half constitute a quiet revolution. The first surprise was the unprecedented removal of the man chosen by King Abdullah as his heir, his brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, and the choice of two princes from the younger generation, Mohammed bin Nayef (Salman’s nephew) and Mohammed bin Salman (Salman’s youngest son), as crown prince and deputy crown prince respectively.

For the first time since the creation of Saudi Arabia in 1932, power is set to move from sons of the founder, Ibn Saud, to his grandsons. This shift is dramatic in a country where old age and leadership have traditionally been linked. The new leadership team, without delay, set about streamlining the country’s administrative and decisionmaking apparatus, dissolving ineffective state institutions and consolidating power in two supreme councils – one for political issues, the other for economic affairs. Young ministers with private sector experience were appointed to slimmed-down ministries, answering directly to the king and his two heirs. Overnight the practice of protracted private consultations among princes before decisions were taken was abandoned.

In the most radical change of strategy, in March 2015 the Kingdom abandoned its traditional practice of quiet diplomacy and led a direct military campaign to counter an uprising in neighbouring Yemen, which had seen Iran-backed Shia Houthis, allied with army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, driving the internationally recognised government out of power and occupying large areas of the country. At the same time, as global oil prices collapsed, Saudi Arabia broke with another tradition by refusing to act as swing producer in OPEC. The Kingdom insisted that it would cut production to boost oil prices only if all major producers, including Iran and Russia, agreed to do the same. With oil prices remaining low, in early 2015, the then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a further revolutionary idea: break Saudi Arabia’s total dependence on oil revenue. This would be achieved by privatising up to 5% of the giant state oil company, Aramco, and setting up a $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund to generate revenue from global investment. Also, public spending would be cut and subsidies on basic goods and services selectively lifted. Some of the main goals to be achieved by 2030 included: developing a military equipment industry to supply half of local needs; rising from 19th to 15th in the league of world economies; and increasing the private sector’s contribution to the economy from 40% to 60% of GDP.

Modern Vision

MBS has said he will lead his country back to “moderate Islam” as he announced plans for a vast new £380 billion economic development zone. He told investors in Riyadh that his economic modernisation plans would go hand-in-hand with political reforms to guide the conservative Kingdom away from severe Wahhabi Islam. He claimed that “we are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today. We will end extremism very soon.”

The prince’s pledge is a challenge to Saudi’s conservative clerics and came as he announced plans for NEOM, a new economic zone that aims to stretch across Saudi’s borders into neighboring Egypt and Jordan. The zone will be 26,500km square, making it bigger than Wales and significantly larger than neighbouring Middle Eastern states like Israel, Lebanon or Kuwait.

Modernizing the Economy

Since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s founding in 1932, the royal family has derived its power primarily from the country’s enormous oil wealth. With the country now experiencing an acute economic challenge due to low oil prices, the royal family has generated a new blueprint, known as “Vision 2030,” outlining its plan to modernize its economy and society while allowing it to maintain its hold on power. The plan includes greater integration of women and young Saudis into the workforce, largely out of economic necessity.

This vision is built around three themes: a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. This first theme is vital to achieving the Vision and a strong foundation for economic prosperity. We believe in the importance of a vibrant society. Members of this society live in accordance with the Islamic principle of moderation, are proud of their national identity and their ancient cultural heritage, enjoy a good life in a beautiful environment, are protected by caring families and are supported by an empowering social and health care system.

In the second theme, a thriving economy provides opportunities for all by building an education system aligned with market needs and creating economic opportunities for the entrepreneur, the small enterprise as well as the large corporation. Therefore, we will develop our investment tools to unlock our promising economic sectors, diversify our economy and create job opportunities. We will also grow our economy and improve the quality of our services, by privatizing some government services, improving the business environment, attracting the finest talent and the best investments globally, and leveraging our unique strategic location in connecting three continents.

The third theme is built on an effective, transparent, accountable, enabling and high-performing government. We will also prepare the right environment for our citizens, private sector and non-profit sector to take their responsibilities and take the initiative in facing challenges and seizing opportunities.

In each of these themes, we highlighted a selection of commitments and goals, as a reflection of our ambition and a representation of what we aim to achieve. This Vision will be the point of reference for our future decisions, so that all future projects are aligned to its content. The government has already prepared the ground and launched some executive programs at the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

Women Empowerment

Saudi women are an important part of the sustainable development of the Kingdom. Recent appointments of Saudi women in leadership positions, the participation of women in municipal elections and the Shura council are instances of government support for women.

Recent statistics reveal that Saudi women own more than SR45 billion ($12 billion) in Saudi banks and SR130 billion ($35 billion) in real estate investments, and are involved in many charities and humanitarian organizations. Workplaces in the kingdom have seen a rise in female employees and 86% of women occupy positions in the governmental educational sector. 40% of women work in the medical field. Furthermore, Saudi women are owners to around 25,000 small and medium-scale establishments and companies.

Women in KSA hold 18 seats in the municipal council, 30 seats in the Shura council – which is 20% of the council, these women have 50,000 commercial registrations in various provinces. Some 35,000 Saudi women are studying abroad in 60 countries on government scholarships fulfilling the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 based on the role of women and youth.

Youth Initiatives

Various organization are aiming to provide a number of well-targeted thematic data and indicators in specific areas towards the achievement of the development transformation of the Kingdom and the full realization of youth potential. Aiming to support the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts towards fully realizing the potential of Saudi youth by promoting active youth participation in the development process, policies and strategies targeting youth are being formulated.

An enabling environment is the mandate and direction of the Vision 2030, where youth empowerment and active participation are catalyst for the success of the vision. In addition, the vision entails creating partnerships between governmental, non-governmental, and private sectors to work together towards empowering the society throughout the transformational development. This direction will help to adapt, implement, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the SDGs achievement in the Kingdom.

Expanding the Defence Force

King Salman is shaking up the leadership of the kingdom’s military and internal security services, elevating younger officials at a time of increased military engagement abroad and sharp economic and social change at home. Recently the king discharged dozens of officials across the government, bringing in a new chief of staff for the Saudi military and new officials for security and economic policy. A number of younger princes were named deputy governors and a woman was appointed deputy labor minister, a rare occurrence in the ultraconservative kingdom.

“There is definitely a move toward a younger generation,” said Mohammed Alyahya, a Saudi analyst and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. Over several decades, Saudi Arabia has spent hundreds of billions of dollars assembling an impressive array of military hardware from the United States, Britain and other countries. But the heavy spending never translated into an effective fighting force that would enable the kingdom to protect itself and engage in military ventures abroad.

According to analysts, the military appointments fit into a wider reorganization of the kingdom’s armed forces that seeks to make them more efficient and stronger players in the region. Also, the Saudi military is looking to become an organized, regional force on its own, and looking for more independence. These changes included a new chief of staff, General Fayyad al-Ruwaili, new leaders for the air defense and land forces, and a royal endorsement of a road map for developing the Defense Ministry.

In this backdrop, it can be observed that the development of Saudi Arabia is a steady project of modernisation, in which each generation builds on the progress of its antecedents. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has witnessed incredible transformation in a short time and is in the process towards further betterment with Vision 2030 setting in. The government has dedicated vast resources to enhance the wellbeing of the Saudi people. As a result of this strategic vision, quality of life indicators in health, education, and economic growth have shown rapid advancement that places Saudi Arabia in the highest category of human development according to metrics developed by the United Nations. This astounding progress has been lauded by international partners, whose engagement with Saudi Arabia has established the Kingdom as a wellspring of innovation and prosperity.

NEOM – The Destination for the Future

  • NEOM incorporates the new way of life and the strategic crossroads in trade, innovation, and technology with livability at its core
  • NEOM aspires to be the safest, most efficient, most future oriented, and best place to live and work
  • NEOM is developed independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework with investors, businesses, and innovators consulted at every stage of development
  • NEOM’s unique location connects Asia, Europe, and Africa, will include the world’s most significant and promising economic sectors
  • NEOM land expands over 26,500 km; its location will facilitate NEOM’s rapid emergence as a global hub that has the potential to bring together the best of Arabia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America

NEOM will be backed by more than $500 billion over the coming years by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, local as well as international investors.



Amna Malik

Author is the President, Center of Pakistan & International Relations (COPAIR) & Editor-in-Chief of ‘Melange’ & ‘The Asian Telegraph’

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About Amna Malik 61 Articles
Author is the President, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR) and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’.