Mohammed bin Salman feels no pressure to reform his country's politica—but the opposition he faces won't be muted foreverby Jane Kinninmont / July 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, the 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, presents himself as a moderniser. His supporters see him as bringing Saudi Arabia up to date with the needs and aspirations of its population, who are accustomed to being ruled by men in their 80s but are mostly under 30 themselves. His critics see him as inexperienced and reckless.
Whatever view is taken, MBS, as he is nicknamed, is disrupting the traditional model of Saudi government on a number of fronts at once. Foreign policy has changed dramatically, from the war in Yemen—the first war Saudi Arabia has led since the state was formed—to joining forces with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to boycott Qatar. Moreover, his sudden elevation to crown prince in June broke with tradition in a dynasty where power has long been shared between elderly half-brothers—the throne has only once before passed from father to son.
But while MBS is changing Saudi Arabia in many ways, one change is conspicuous by its absence: political reform. Nonetheless, this can’t be neglected forever, as all the other changes are altering the social contract that the kingdom has established over decades.
With an eye to the concerns of Saudi youth, MBS has associated himself closely with “Vision 2030,” a raft of economic reforms to reduce the country’s unsustainable dependence on oil and create more private-sector jobs, and with a gradual relaxation of the country’s tight social restrictions, including a new government agency for entertainment bringing pop concerts to Saudi Arabia.