When it comes to this charming new prince, could there be more to the story than meets the eye?
The winds of change are blowing in Saudi Arabia. On June the 22nd, King Salman announced an unorthodox change in the Saudi line of royal succession. Mohammed Bin Salman, the king’s son, was declared the new crown prince. This ends decades of royal custom and dramatically re-orders the structure of power within the kingdom. At just 31 years of age, Mohammed Bin Salman, or MBS as he is popularly referred to as, is set to become the youngest ruler the kingdom has ever seen.
He was put in place of former crown prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, 57, who was known for his security acumen. With his help, Saudi Arabia & the United States managed to dismantle Al-Qaeda’s networks inside the country. This shake-up now puts him out of his career.
While Mohammed Bin Nayef may have been a reliable counter terrorism partner, Mohammed Bin Salman wins points as a reformer. MBS seeks to turn Saudi Arabia into a more modern country with less religious fundamentalism. In the past, he has stripped the religious police of the power to arrest people. He has also set up an Entertainment Authority that has been organizing mixed concerts and has even talked about bringing back cinemas.
He lays out all his plans for the country’s future in his Vision 2030. “Our Vision: Saudi Arabia.. the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting three continents” the website foreword reads. It lays out his goals for modernizing the country as well as diversifying the country’s economy away from oil. Reform plans are slowly moving ahead with an increase in non-oil revenue by 46 percent from 2014 to 2016.
One of the biggest economic changes he plans to implement is his plan to privatize 5 percent of the state controlled oil giant Saudi Aramco. The I.P.O. is set to generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue is one of the largest such sales in financial history. This is to provide revenue to help with the goal of diversifying the economy away from oil in areas such as mining, arms, vehicles, and entertainment.
The changes to the entertainment industry can be seen as attempts to change the culture in the country and appeal to the 70 percent of the population that is under 30. They have already been underway with segregated concerts being held and Jeddah hosting its first Comic Con. These come as welcome changes in a country where the only entertainment options are restaurants and shopping malls. Chairman of the Entertainment Authority, Ahmed al Khatib, told The Washington Post that the larger goal is to “spread happiness.”
While his reforms seek to spread happiness at home, the young Prince’s critics are quick to point out that he’s not been doing the same abroad. As defense minister, Mohammed Bin Salman was responsible for the Saudi led campaign against the Iran backed Houthi rebels present in Yemen in 2015. The campaign has presently failed to achieve its goal of driving the rebels out of the capital Sanaa. The war has cost a lot of civilian lives and has severely damaged an already weak economy. Saudi Arabia and its allies have also been accused of war crimes.
He’s also responsible for the diplomatic blockade against Qatar, which has failed to yield any fruit. These aggressive and ineffective foreign policy decisions have led his critics to call him brash and reckless. There is reason to be skeptical because a more aggressive Saudi foreign policy could lead to more such conflicts resulting in an unnecessary loss of life and livelihood in the Gulf region.