Focus on Strongmen: Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia
The face of Saudi Arabia has drastically changed over the course of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) leadership. His turbulent rise to power began in 2009, when he was appointed a special adviser to his father, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, then governor of Riyadh, reports BBC.
Following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in 2015, bin Salman’s father ascended to the throne. King Salman made the surprising decision to appoint his son as Minister of Defense as well as making his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, Crown Prince.
One of his first acts as newly appointed Defense Minister in 2015 was to intercede in the affairs of other Arab states in the brutal civil war in Yemen. In an effort to counter what was seen as a growing Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula, MBS along with allied United Arab Emirates launched a brutal air campaign on rebel targets as well as training and supplying the Pro-Government forces in Yemen, reports the BBC.
While meddling in Yemen’s affairs MBS was viewed as spearheading the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar that began in June of 2017. The blockade was in response to the alleged “support of terrorism” and ironically “meddling in its neighbors affairs” according to the BBC. Later in June the then Prince was appointed Crown Prince in place of his cousin, who was then condemned to house arrest.
Following the cut from Qatar and the campaign in Yemen, during the fall of 2017, MBS turned his guise to rivals at home in the way of his “anti-corruption” drive. The campaign allies MBS with the “independent” Public Prosecutor, who is the head of judicial process in the country.
In an effort to consolidate power, the Prince rounded up over 200 of the country is richest and most influential, effectively imprisoning them inside the Ritz-Carlton of Riyadh. Many of the elites rather than take their cases to court, have ceded control of companies as well as money to the government.
More than 1,900 accounts were frozen amend the power grab with an estimated $800 billion in limbo, while only 4 percent of the accused willing to battle their cases in court, reported on by the BBC.
Contrary to his military strikes and his forced imprisonments, MBS has attempted to imprint his name on the nation in the form of technological and economic innovation. Salman is attempting to bring his “Vision 2030” into fruition. The broad ranging plan includes the construction of a resort-like town outside Riyadh as well as moving the country away from its oil dependencies, according to the Business Insider.
Many throughout the kingdom would welcome a shift in the economic base, while his recent emphasis on social reform has caught conservatives and traditionalists in his nation by surprise, reports Business Insider.
In a recent interview with the Atlantic, bin Salman talked about the kingdom’s recent change of policy allowing women to drive. The law was widely seen as a push by MBS himself.
Albeit groundbreaking, the policy change overshadowed by the arrest of several women and human rights activists that led to an international row with Canada that resulted in the freezing of trade ties.
Furthermore, Salman has floated the idea of revoking guardianship laws that require women to travel with a male relative when in public, a move that raised the eyebrows of advisors, reports BBC.
Mohammed bin-Salman, before October 2 of this year, had seemed impenetrable from foreign and domestic powers. The kingdom and the Crown Prince’s story have continued to change over the course of the events, looking more and more suspicious as evidence emerges.
According to the BBC there were even calls for the Crown Prince to be removed and replaced, speculation that was spurned by the return of the king’s youngest brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz.
Prince Ahmed was one of only three to vote against MBS ascension to position of Crown Prince according to Reuters, this return would indicate that the King is increasingly becoming more involved after Khashoggi’s murder.
MBS, assuming he will survive the careless actions in Istanbul regarding Khashoggi, has the potential to reshape the Middle East for decades to come. A shifting economy and social change on the surface, amid his brute foreign policy have the potential to take Saudi Arabia to unknown lands. Whether these lands will be prosperous for the Saudis remains to be seen. Mohammed bin Salman, if allowed, will continue his vision at whatever cost he deems necessary.