IN October 2011, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz died, and the current King Salman began his ascent to power by becoming second Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister in November 2011. He made Mohammed bin Salman his Private Advisor. In June 2012, Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud died and Prince Muhammad bin Salman moved up into the number two position in the hierarchy, as his father became the new Crown Prince and first Deputy Prime Minister. He soon began remaking the court in his own image. On 02 March 2013, the Chief of the Crown Prince court Prince Saud bin Nayef was appointed Governor of the Eastern province and Prince Mohammad bin Salman succeeded him in the post. He was also given the rank of minister on 25 April 2014. Prince Mohammed was appointed State Minister. On 23 January 2015, King Abdullah died, Salman took the throne and Prince Mohammad bin Salman was appointed Minister for Defence. He was also named as the Secretary General of the Royal Court on the same date. In addition he retained his post as the Minister of the State. The most dynamic and charismatic Mohammad bin Salman 33 colloquially known as MBS, is the Crown Prince of KSA. He is currently serving as the country’s Deputy Premier whereas the title of Premier being held by the King. He is also Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, Chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs and Minister for Defence, presently the world’s youngest at the time of his appointment. He has been described as the power behind the throne of his father. He was appointed Crown Prince in June 2017 following King Salman’s decision to depose Muhammad bin Nayef from all positions, making MBS heir presumptive to the throne.
Before the appointment of MBS as Deputy Premier and Crown Prince KSA has long been an orthodox and conservative society. But MBS came to power and has led several successful reforms, which include regulations restricting the powers of the religious police and the removal of the ban on female drivers. Other cultural developments under his reign include the first Saudi public concerts by a female singer, the first Saudi sports stadium to admit women, an increased presence of women in the workforce and opening the country to international tourists by introducing e-visa system which can now easily be issued for foreigners through the Internet to attend events and festivals in KSA. Opening of over two thousand cinemas by 2030 is another big social move. Appointments of Princess Reema bint Bandar in United States as Ambassador and lady Sarah Al-Suhaimi as Chairperson of Saudi Stock Exchange clearly reflect MBS’s broad vision and approach. His Vision 2030 program aims to diversify the Saudi economy through investment in non-oil sectors including technology and tourism. In 2016 he announced plans to list the shares of the State Oil Company Saudi Aramco. On 15 December 2009, at the age of 24, MBS entered politics as a Special Advisor to his father when the latter was the Governor of Riyadh. At this time MBS 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 Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, and Member of the Board of Trustees for Albir Society in the Riyadh region. In late 2015, MBS attended a meeting between King Salman and Obama, where the Prince broke protocol to deliver a monologue criticizing US Foreign Policy. When MBS announced an anti-terrorist military alliance of Islamic countries in December 2015, some of the countries involved said they had not been consulted. In December 2015 MBS established the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), a Saudi-led Islamic alliance against terrorism. The IMCTC’s first meeting took place in Riyadh in November 2017 and involved defence ministers and officials from 41 countries.
On the day he became Crown Prince, Donald Trump called MBS to congratulate him on his recent elevation. Trump and the MBS pledged close cooperation on security and economic issues, and the two leaders also discussed the need to cut off support for terrorism, the recent diplomatic dispute with Qatar, and the push to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians. MBS told the Washington Post in April 2017 that without America’s cultural influence on Saudia , KSA would have ended up like North Korea. In May 2017, MBS 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”. In November 2017, he ordered some 200 wealthy businessmen and princes to be placed under house arrest in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel. On 4 November 2017, Saudi Prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal was arrested. Others arrested or fired in the purge included Mutaib bin Abdullah, Head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, Adel Fakeih, the Minister of Economy and Planning, and the Commander of the Saudi Naval Forces, Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammad Al-Sultan. The sweeping campaign of arrests appeared to be the latest move to consolidate the power of MBS , the favorite son and top Adviser of King Salman. The King had decreed the creation of a powerful new Anti-Corruption Committee, headed by MBS, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests.
The purge was part of a move towards reforms. MBS knows that only if he can place the Royal Family under the law, and not above as it has been in the past, can he ask the whole country to change attitudes relative to taxes and subsidies? The clampdown against corruption resonates with ordinary Saudis who feel that the State has been asking them to accept belt tightening while, at the same time, they see corruption and the power elite accumulating more wealth. Bin Salman’s ambitious reform agenda is widely popular with Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning youth but faces resistance from some of the old guard more comfortable with the kingdom’s traditions of incremental change and rule by consensus. MBS is the first prince in modern Saudi history whose constituency has not been within the Royal Family, it’s outside it. It’s been young Saudis. The 2018 Arab Youth Survey found that nine out of ten 18–24 years old in the MENA region support MBS’s campaign against corruption. MBS is making Saudis compatible to the modern nations. Under his leadership revolutionary diverse expansion of economy in different dimensions will make KSA one of the leading powers of the 21st century.
— The writer is political analyst based in Islamabad.