He is now next in line to the throne, but over the past couple of years has gained a reputation as a high-stakes risk-taker. What would his reign look like?by Peter Salisbury / June 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
Until two and a half years ago, few Middle East watchers knew Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s name. Now, after the latest in a series of strokes of his father’s pen, he looks almost certain to be the next king of Saudi Arabia—perhaps within weeks or months—and to play a major role, for better or for worse, in shaping the future of the Middle East.
Bin Salman may be a relative newcomer, but it is already clear what his reign might look like. The 31-year-old’s elevation to crown prince, making him first in line to the Saudi throne, is just the latest in a series of moves designed to concentrate power in the kingdom, historically spread out across the ruling Al Saud family, around a single individual in a manner not seen since the internal schisms that followed the death of the founder of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud.
Since his father became king in January 2015, bin Salman has been named defense minister and the head of new national bodies overseeing security and economic affairs. He has seized control of management of the kingdom’s relationship with the US, and has taken a growing role in the management of the Saudi oil sector, earning himself the monicker of Saudi Arabia’s “minister of everything.” He has also quickly established a reputation as a high-stakes risk-taker.
Mohammed bin Salman, or “MbS” as he is known, charted an aggressive foreign policy course abroad from the get-go, most notably becoming the public face of a campaign in neighboring Yemen. It was the first time in decades the kingdom had taken the lead in a military venture overseas, and quickly became mired in controversy, not least over accusations that a Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign was indiscriminately killing civilians. More recently, bin Salman played a key role in the isolation of neighboring Qatar. He also initiated what for Saudi Arabia are radical economic reforms, clustered around the “Vision 2030” plan he unveiled in 2016 and is expected to lead an IPO of Aramco, the state oil firm and Saudi Arabia’s golden goose, in 2018.
Critics argue that bin Salman is betting the house (of Saud) on a series of high-stakes gambles aimed at fundamentally changing the way the kingdom is perceived at home and overseas—and shoring up local and international support for his reign—but for…