Mohammed Bin Salman: Road To The Throne
Since its independence in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been able to rapidly climb up the World’s ladder of dominance. Due to massive petrol revenue, the country has become an essential player in international politics, holding the fate of many economies between their fingertips, and interfering in conflict after conflict. Their long-term alliance with the USA has made them the country’s pillar in the region whilst their immense wealth has allowed for their royal family to live a ludicrously lavish lifestyle.
However, on the 6th of March, a misguided and impulsive decision may have sent all their successes up in flames.
After an aggressive phone call- turned shouting match- between Mohamed Bin Salman (MbS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and President Putin, the two countries officially declared an oil war. (Read what this means and why it happened here)
Apparently, during this phone call- which had Trump’s blessings through Jared Kushner-, things got ‘personal.’ Russia refused to comply with Saudi’s wishes and now, the whole world is suffering the repercussions of depleting oil prices, leaving many economies on the brink of freefall.
This controversial decision is one of many taken by MbS since he became Crown Prince. His firm grip on power brought forth a series of sweeping reforms that have shaken the very foundation of the Arabian Kingdom, leaving many perplexed as to how someone, who was in no way expected to be heir to the throne, now carries such authority and control over the whole region.
How Did MbS Become Crown Prince?
Saudi Arabia has been under one ruling family since its independence in 1932. Their first king, Abdulaziz Bin Saud, had 45 sons who have been succeeding him until our present day.
The royal bloodline was expected to run through all of Abdulaziz’s sons- who were fit to rule- before being passed down to the next generation. Nevertheless, the current king of Saudi, Salman Bin Abdulaziz, decided to defy all norms by making his nephew, Muhammad bin Nayef, crown prince, instead of his brother.
The surprises didn’t end there. In 2017, Muhammed bin Nayef was suddenly deposed from his position as heir to the throne, being replaced by the King’s son, Mohamed Bin Salman.
Associates of the Royal family stated that this ousting involved Muhammad bin Nayef being "held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne." These reports have been dismissed by Saudi Officials. Yet, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that the current King had ulterior motives.
Through making his son his main advisor, King Salman would prevent any opposition or threat from the remainder of the royal family.
What Has MbS Done Since Becoming Crown Prince?
Throughout the past 5 years, the face of the Arabian kingdom has undergone a steady transformation, from a conservative, traditional and enclosed society- relying on religion for social rules- to a westernized and modern one. This can be largely accredited to MbS, who permitted women to drive, opened cinemas, and encouraged vast reforms throughout the country, however, at the expense of the country's stability and his family relations.
One of the first decisions taken by MbS since becoming crown prince was to deepen his alliance with the USA, forming a personal friendship with President Donald Trump, and therefore, scoring many weapon and petrol deals.
America’s unwavering support to Saudi Arabia has even stemmed to most of the kingdom’s political and economic actions, which, unfortunately, in most cases, have proven detrimental to the region.
In June 2017, MbS led a siege against the country of Qatar over their alleged support of terrorism. Qatar has since plead innocent of all claims and has refused to comply with Saudi’s initial list of 13 demands. Instead of resolving any misunderstandings, this action shook the trust between Arab nations, creating a rift between the once united region.
Not only did MbS spark tension in the gulf, but his national actions have taken a gamble with the whole kingdom’s stability. In 2017, the crown prince orchestrated a ‘purge,’ where he arrested hundreds of open-minded clerics who disagreed with his policies and most of his cousins-who were mainly political opponents- over their alleged ‘corruption’ and ‘money laundering.’
The next year he captured international attention, being directly linked to the infamous death of the anti-government journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured, murdered, and dissected on foreign soil, in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
MBS then decided to take things one step further, arresting his main rivals, and two of the most influential figures in the Royal family: ex-Crown prince and interior minister, Mohammed Bin Nayef, and his uncle, Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz. The arrest of the only remaining full brother of King Salman, and the former crown prince, were ordered after the pair allegedly plotted to overthrow King Salman and his son. This swift and blunt decision remains shrouded in mystery, but the message to the remainder of the royal family was painfully clear: Mohamed bin Salman is the boss now, and he will do whatever it takes to ensure he remains in power.
On the economic side of things, his most controversial decision to date was selling up to 5% of Saudi Arabia’s largest petroleum company, Aramco, to private owners. Mohamed bin Salman described Saudi Arabia as suffering through a “dangerous oil addiction” which he believes will only be cured through diversifying the Kingdom’s workforce, using the money gained from Aramco. Despite the plan being very ambitious, it has been viewed positively by many, even his critics, within and out of the kingdom.
Worst of all, the crown prince has become directly responsible for escalating the conflict in Yemen. In 2015, Bin Salman launched a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen (read a simplified overview here) which forced millions from their homes and left the nation in a state of a humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabian airstrikes have slowly forced Yemen into a state of mass-starvation, yet, the crown prince remains adamant, destroying hospitals, schools, and other civilian infrastructure, all in hopes of limiting Iranian influence, leaving roughly 20 million Yemenis in need of urgent assistance and adding fuel to the bitter rivalry in Iran.
As a young prince hungry for power attempts to modernize a nation that has historically depended on religious rules, petrol, and alliances, the stability of the state and the livelihood of 33 million people is gambled. The fate of Saudi Arabia is far from stable as Mohammed bin Salman’s relentless nature and firm grip on power causes unrest to increase. Under Iranian pressure and international tension, Bin Salman’s pursuit for the throne continues, risking the Arabian Kingdom and jeopardizing the very pillars on which it was built.