• Flynn Devine

Mohammed bin Salman

Largely considered the de facto leader of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has most recently made headlines due to his reported role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which you can read about here. This young ruler has created much contention during his time in power, so who is this infamous royal leader and why is he important?



Their Story


Although on the surface MBS might have seemed like an exciting young new leader for the Kingdom, the dangers and risks he poses have quickly become apparent during his time in leadership.


MBS was born on the 31st August 1985 to Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, son of the first monarch of Saudi Arabia. Mohammed spent his life within Saudi Royalty and throughout his career worked in several state roles. He became special advisor to his father, the then governor of Riyadh, in 2009 and moved up from there.


His Father became Crown Prince (the second highest position after the King) in 2012 and MBS took the position of 'head of Crown Prince’s Court' in 2013. Then, following the death of the King in 2015, his father stepped up to take the Crown, bringing his son with him into leadership.


MBS was announced Crown Prince in 2017 and was given the position of Defence Minister. At age 35 he is a young man to hold such power, and since his Father has become increasingly less able to lead with old age he has consolidated more and more authority for himself, now essentially ruling this Arab powerhouse.



Now


MBS has managed to created a 'cult' around himself, surrounded by powerful men who will do almost anything he wishes, partially out of respect but largely due to fear. MBS is heavily involved in the activities of the military and security services due to his role as Defence Minister, which was most of the basis for his reported involvement in the Khashoggi case.


Mostly avoiding any negative consequences from his role in a myriad of internationally condemned actions, the Prince seems practically untouchable and continues to move ahead with his plans to 'modernise' the Kingdom.


Following his announcement of Vision 2030, a plan to alter the socio-political and economic grounding of the state largely based on reducing reliance on oil, MBS garnered some favour from those looking for a more diversified Kingdom. Since this announcement he has only furthered solidified his position as the central power holder.



Supporters' Views


MBS has made some internationally heralded changes in Saudi Arabia, such as his important role in lifting the driving ban on Saudi women, and some believe him to be a rejuvenating power for a Kingdom deeply entrenched in religion and ritual.


His keenness to maintain Saudi Arabia's position of power in the region means he does carry some favour with parties whose foreign policy targets a rising Iran, but MBS personally is generally a contentious character for world leaders.


Importantly, his support base within the Kingdom itself is hard to objectively judge due to widely recognised Royal tampering with the supposed opinion of the population. This is largely executed through Social Media and the government's use of 'bots', however there are still a large number of outspoken critics of MBS and his government.



Opponents' Views


External support for MBS personally is far and few between. In the West, besides Donald Trump's vocal support of the leader during his time in office, backing of the Crown Prince has classically been shaky and has become practically impossible following the release of reports directly implicating him in the murder of Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


MBS has also been heavily involved in the conflict in Yemen, which has been called "the largest humanitarian's crisis in the world", and played a key role in the blockade of Qatar in 2017, which you can read about here.


However, despite evidence implicating the Saudi Prince in murder, the US is not filing sanctions on him directly and the UK wishes to continue their relationship with the Arab leader. Saudi Arabia is seen as a key ally in the region to protect the interests of many Western powers.


Saudi Arabia is a huge customer of the UK's arms trade and condemning the war in Yemen would put an entire markets in jeopardy for Great Britain and with the US' concerns over Iran driving much of their foreign policy in the region, maintaining Saudi Arabia as an ally and a counter-power seemingly outweighs the benefits of sanctions.


Within the country there is wide-spread dissent, but due to the importance of the region to many other nations, an internationally unprovoked intervention is unlikely. At this point in time MBS holds a lot of power, with little accountability on the world stage.