It came as a shock to the world when King Salman bin Abdulaziz removed his half-brother Mohammad bin Naif as the crown prince and appointed his 32-year-old son, Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MBS, as his Heir Apparent. Apparently, it was surprising that transition of power that by norm was supposed to be brother to brother was this time father to son, which broke the implied protocol of tradition. Overnight, Mohammad bin Salman became the most powerful person in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammad bin Salman was born in the Saudi city of Riyadh on 31st August, 1985. His mother, Fahada Bint Falah is the third wife of King Salman.He is the eldest amongst his siblings. After graduating in Law from King Saud University, he started working for the private sector till he was appointed as his father’s (governor of Riyadh at that time) special advisor in 2009. During that time, he began to rise from one position to another such as, secretary general of the Riyadh competitive council, special advisor to the chairman of the board for the King Abdulaziz foundation of research and archives, and a member of the board of trustees for Albir society in the Riyadh region. His political standing saw an exponential increase in 2012, when he was elevated to chief of the crown prince court, where he started remaking the court in his own image.
King Salman took the throne in January 2015. Mohammad bin Salman was appointed as the defense minister and secretary general of the royal court. He was the youngest defense minister in the world at the age of 30. He mobilized the pan-GCC coalition to intervene in Yemen –his first move as defense minister! He ordered the airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen and imposed a naval blockade.He was the architect of the Yemen war, launched the war in March 2015 against Houthi rebels without full coordination across security services. He was widely criticized for his actions and abuse of power in a war spanning more than two years and killing hundreds of people including women and children.
The Prince was appointed the crown prince on 21st June 2017 when his father deposed Mohammad bin Naif from the position of crown prince. His appointment came as a surprise as skeptics worry that he is too inexperienced for such a high-profile job.
He has a very strong stance against terrorism and its facilitators. He accused Qatar and Iran of funding terrorism and he strongly believes in cutting off support for terrorism. He was instrumental in orchestrating the diplomatic rift with Qatar and convincing UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain to cut ties with the Gulf state, following which an embargo was imposed against Qatar in June 2017 till present day.
His policies against Iran are backed by the USA and Israel. He accused Iran of supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian backed regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria. “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia, without elaborating on policies. Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia”, he said in an interview. He has been criticized for such statements and actions against Iran as these kinds of statements can escalate a war between two countries. Many say it’s an ideological and sectarianism conflict between Shias of Iran and Wahabis of Saudi Arabia. He shares a very good relationship with the USA. He said, “Without America’s cultural influence on Saudi Arabia, we would have ended up like North Korea.” Donald Trump, president of USA, called and congratulated him on becoming crown prince and both shared their thoughts on security and economic issues. The prince is setting new direction of ties between the house of Saud and President Trump, who made his first foreign trip to the Kingdom, inking projects worth billions of dollars.
The Prince holds a non-negotiating policy on corruption. In May 2017, he publicly warned, “I confirm to you, no one will survive in a corruption case-whoever he is, even if he’s a prince or a minister.” On 4th November, Saudi media reported the arrest of 11 princes, including the billionaire Walled bin Talal, along with other government officials, military’s top brass, and businessmen, on corruption and money laundering charges. Some analysts saw the arrests as a move to consolidate the power of Mohammad bin Salman. King Salman had decreed the creation of an authoritative new anti-corruption committee headed by the crown prince only hours before the committee ordered the arrests.
Mohammad bin Salman is now the new centre of power in Saudi Arabia and his power is ostensibly unchallenged. His father King Salman, aged 81 and reportedly not in the best of health, may be considering abdication in near future. He vowed to reform the country’s social and economic situation and bring the country to “moderate Islam”. He said in an interview with The Guardian, “The ultra-conservative state had been ‘not normal’ for the past 30 years”. Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, is now witnessing a huge change in its society, where social taboos are now being tackled with head-on. Mohammad bin Salman rescinded the ban on woman driving and has also scaled back the guardianship law that restricts women’s role in society.
He has clipped the wings of the religious police and prohibits them from making arrests. Mohammad bin Salman, also modernizing the Saudi council for Hadiths ruling, which regulates the behaviour of devoted Muslims, established an authority which has hosted comedy shows, pro wrestling events, and monster truck rallies.
He is the man behind the “vision 2030”, which is to bring wide social and economic change and to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil. He plans to build an economic zone focusing mainly on industries including energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing, and entertainment, across 10,231 square miles near the Red Sea which will encompass across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders. Saudi Arabia is now welcoming the foreign investors. In a gathering with investors in Riyadh, he said “We try to work only with the dreamers; this place is not for conventional people or companies.” He also plans to sell ARAMCO’s 5% share in the open market which would raise about $100 billion.
Bin Salman will inevitably hold the title of “custodian of two holy mosques” in the not so distant future which will make him a standout amongst the most persuasive individuals in the Muslim world. He will have the ability to change the Muslim world and can join them for the improvement of society. He has enormous obligations on his shoulders and the future sits tight for him.