Mohammad bin Salman

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His Royal Highness Prince
Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud - 2017.jpg
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
First Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia
Assumed office
21 June 2017
MonarchSalman
Preceded byMuhammad bin Nayef
Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia
Assumed office
23 January 2015
MonarchSalman
Preceded bySalman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
Second Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia
In office
29 April 2015 – 21 June 2017
MonarchSalman
Prime MinisterSalman
Preceded byMuhammad bin Nayef
Succeeded byVacant
Personal details
Born
Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

(1985-08-31) 31 August 1985 (age 33)
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia[citation needed]
Spouse(s)
Sarah Bint Mashhoor bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (m. 2008)
Children4
Parents
AwardsNishan-e-Pakistan
2019
Full nameMohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud
HouseHouse of Saud

Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Arabic: محمد بن سلمان بن عبدالعزيز آل سعود‎, romanizedMuḥammad bin Salmān bin ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa‘ūd; born 31 August 1985),[1][2][3] colloquially known as MbS,[4][5] is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He is currently serving as the country's deputy prime minister[6] (the title of prime minister being held by the king) and is also chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs, and minister of defense – the world's youngest at the time of his appointment.[7] He has been described as the power behind the throne of his father, King Salman. He was appointed crown prince[8] in June 2017 following King Salman's decision to remove Muhammad bin Nayef from all positions, making Mohammed bin Salman heir presumptive to the throne.[9][10][11]

He has led several successful reforms, which include regulations restricting the powers of the religious police,[12] and the removal of the ban on female drivers.[13] Other cultural developments under his reign include the first Saudi public concerts by a female singer, the first Saudi sports stadium to admit women,[14] an increased presence of women in the workforce,[15] and opening the country to international tourists by introducing an e-visa system which can now easily be issued for foreigners from the Internet to attend events and festivals.[16] His Vision 2030 program aims to diversify the Saudi economy through investment in non-oil sectors including technology and tourism. In 2016, he announced plans to list the shares of the state oil company Saudi Aramco.[17]

Despite praise for his strides towards the social and economic liberalisation of Saudi Arabia, international commentators and human rights groups have been vocally critical of bin Salman's leadership and the shortfalls of his reform program, citing a rising number of detentions and alleged torture of human rights activists,[18] his bombing of Yemen in which war-induced famine could in 2018/2019 cause 13 million civilians to starve,[19] the escalation of the Qatar diplomatic crisis,[20] the start of the Lebanon–Saudi Arabia dispute, the start of a diplomatic spat with Canada, the arrest of members of the Saudi royal family in November 2017, and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.[21][22][23] He has been described by observers as an autocratic leader, with no tolerance for dissidence against him or the Saudi Royal Family.[24]

Early life and education[edit]

Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud was born on 31 August 1985.[2][3][25] He is the son of King Salman from his third spouse,[26] Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan bin Hathleen.[27] She is a granddaughter of Rakan bin Hithalayn, who was the head of the Al Ajman tribe.[28]

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the eldest among his mother's children;[26] his full siblings include Turki bin Salman, former chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, and Khalid bin Salman.[29] Prince Mohammed holds a bachelor's degree in law from King Saud University.[30]

Early career[edit]

After graduating from college, Mohammed bin Salman spent several years in the private sector before becoming personal aide to his father. He worked as a consultant for the Experts Commission, working for the Saudi Cabinet.[31]

On 15 December 2009, at the age of 24, Mohammed bin Salman entered politics as a special advisor to his father when the latter was the governor of Riyadh Province.[32] At this time Mohammed bin Salman began to rise from one position to another, such as secretary-general of the Riyadh Competitive Council, special advisor to the chairman of the board for the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives, and a member of the board of trustees for Albir Society in the Riyadh region.[33]

In October 2011, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz died, and the current King Salman began his ascent to power by becoming second deputy prime minister and defense minister in November 2011. He made Mohammed bin Salman his private advisor.[34]

Chief of the Court[edit]

In June 2012, Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died and Prince Muhammad bin Salman moved up into the number two position in the hierarchy, as his father became the new crown prince and first deputy prime minister. He soon began remaking the court in his own image. On 2 March 2013, the chief of the Crown Prince court Prince Saud bin Nayef was appointed governor of the Eastern Province and Prince Mohammed bin Salman succeeded him in the post. He was also given the rank of minister.[35][36][37] On 25 April 2014, Prince Mohammed was appointed state minister.[33]

Rise to power[edit]

Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince[edit]

Prince Mohammed with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Adel al-Jubeir, 13 June 2016

On 23 January 2015, King Abdullah died, Salman took the throne and Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Minister of Defense.[38] He was also named as the Secretary General of the Royal Court on the same date.[39] In addition, he retained his post as the Minister of the State.[40][41]

In Yemen, the political unrest (which began escalating in 2011) rapidly became a major issue for the newly appointed Minister of Defense, with rebel Houthis taking control of northern Yemen in late 2014, followed by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his cabinet's resignation. Mohammed bin Salman's first move as minister was to mobilize a pan-GCC coalition to intervene following a series of suicide bombings in Sanaa via air strikes against Houthis, and impose a naval blockade.[42] In March 2015, Saudi Arabia began leading a coalition of countries allied against the Houthi rebels.[43] While there was agreement among those Saudi princes heading security services regarding the necessity of a response to the Houthis' seizure of Sana'a, which had forced the Yemeni government into exile, Prince Mohammed launched the intervention without full coordination across security services. Saudi National Guard Minister Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who was out of the country, was left out of the loop of operations.[12] While Prince Mohammed bin Salman sold the war as a quick win on Houthi rebels in Yemen and a way to put President Hadi back in power, however, it became a long war of attrition.[44][45]

In April 2015, Muhammad bin Nayef, who is King Salman's nephew,[46][47] and Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince, respectively, under King Salman's royal decrees.[48]

In late 2015, Prince Mohammed attended a meeting between King Salman and U.S. President Barack Obama, where the prince broke protocol to deliver a monologue criticizing U.S. foreign policy.[12] When Prince bin Salman announced an anti-terrorist military alliance of Islamic countries in December 2015, some of the countries involved said they had not been consulted.[12]

President Barack Obama, John O. Brennan, King Salman and Prince Mohammed at the GCC-US Summit in Riyadh on 21 April 2016
President Donald Trump speaks with Prince Mohammed, Washington, D.C., 14 March 2017

Regarding his role in the military intervention, Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave his first on-the-record interview on 4 January 2016 to The Economist, which had called him the "architect of the war in Yemen". Denying the title, he explained the mechanism of the decision-making institutions actually holding stakes in the intervention, including the council of security and political affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Saudi side. He added that the Houthis usurped power in the Yemeni capital Sana’a before he served as Minister of Defense.[44][49][50]

In response to the threat from ISIL, In December 2015 Prince Mohammed established the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), a Saudi-led Islamic alliance against terrorism.[51] The IMCTC's first meeting took place in Riyadh in November 2017 and involved defense ministers and officials from 41 countries.[52]

Crown Prince[edit]

Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince on 21 June 2017, following his father's decision to depose Muhammad bin Nayef, making him heir presumptive to the throne.[53] The change of succession had been predicted in December 2015 by an unusually blunt and public memo published by the German Federal Intelligence Service,[54][55] which was subsequently rebuked by the German government.[56]

On the day he became Crown Prince, U.S. President Donald Trump called Mohammed bin Salman to "congratulate him on his recent elevation". Trump and the new crown prince pledged "close cooperation" on security and economic issues, according to the White House, and the two leaders also discussed the need to cut off support for terrorism, the recent diplomatic dispute with Qatar, and the push to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians.[57] Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post in April 2017 that without America's cultural influence on Saudi Arabia, "we would have ended up like North Korea."[58]

2017 purge[edit]

In May 2017, Mohammed bin Salman publicly warned "I confirm to you, no one will survive in a corruption case—whoever he is, even if he's a prince or a minister".[59] In November 2017, he ordered some 200 wealthy businessmen and princes to be placed under house arrest in Riyadh's Ritz Carlton hotel.[60] On 4 November 2017, the Saudi press announced the arrest of the Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal, a frequent English-language news commentator and a major shareholder in Citi, News Corp and Twitter, as well as over 40 princes and government ministers at the behest of the Crown Prince on corruption and money laundering charges.[61]

Others arrested or fired in the purge included Mutaib bin Abdullah, head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, Adel Fakeih, the Minister of Economy and Planning, and the Commander of the Saudi Naval Forces, Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan.[61][62]

One hypothesis for the arrests was that they were part of a power grab on the part of Salman. The New York Times wrote:

Writing for The Huffington Post, University of Delaware professor of Islam and Global Affairs, Muqtedar Khan, speculated as to whether the removal of Talal, a critic of Donald Trump, amounted to a coup.[63] BBC correspondent Frank Gardner was quoted as saying that "Prince Mohammed is moving to consolidate his growing power while spearheading a reform programme". Yet "[i]t is not clear what those detained are suspected of."[64]

Another hypothesis was that the purge was part of a move towards reform. Steven Mufson of The Washington Post argues that Crown Prince Mohammed "knows that only if he can place the royal family under the law, and not above as it was in the past, can he ask the whole country to change their attitudes relative to taxes [and] subsidies."[65] An analysis from the CBC claimed that "the clampdown against corruption resonates with ordinary Saudis who feel that the state has been asking them to accept belt tightening while, at the same time, they see corruption and the power elite accumulating more wealth".[66] Bin Salman's ambitious reform agenda is widely popular with Saudi Arabia's burgeoning youth population but faces resistance from some of the old guard more comfortable with the kingdom's traditions of incremental change and rule by consensus.[67] According to a former British ambassador to Riyadh, Bin Salman "is the first prince in modern Saudi history whose constituency has not been within the royal family, it's outside it. It's been young Saudis, particularly younger Saudi men in the street".[68] The 2018 Arab Youth Survey found that nine out of ten 18–24 year-olds in the MENA region support Bin Salman's campaign against corruption.[69]

Robert Jordan, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said that "certainly Saudi Arabia has had a corruption problem for many years. I think the population, especially, has been very unhappy with princes coming in and grabbing business deals, with public funds going to flood control projects that never seem to get built... I would also say it's a classical power grab move sometimes to arrest your rivals, your potential rivals under the pretext of corruption".[70]

US President Trump expressed support for the move, tweeting "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing....Some of those they are harshly treating have been 'milking' their country for years!"[71][72] French President Macron, who visited Riyadh days after the purge, when asked about the purge stated "this is not the role of a president, and similarly I would not expect a leader of a foreign country to come and infringe on domestic matters,"[73]

On 30 January 2019, the Saudi government announced the conclusion of Anti-Corruption Committee's work.[74][75]

Political, economic, and social changes[edit]

Prince Mohammed's ideology has been described as nationalist[76][77] and populist,[78][79] with a conservative attitude towards politics, and a liberal stance on economic and social issues.[80][81] It has been heavily influenced by the views of his former adviser Saud al-Qahtani[82][83] and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.[84][85] His style of ruling has been described as extremely brutal by journalist Rula Jebreal and authoritarian by Jamal Khashoggi[86] and Theodor Winkler.[81]

On 29 January 2015, Prince Mohammed was named the chair of the newly established Council for Economic and Development Affairs,[87] replacing the disbanded Supreme Economic Commission.[87] In April 2015, Prince Mohammed bin Salman was given control over Saudi Aramco by royal decree following his appointment as deputy crown prince.[88]

In March 2018, Prince Mohammed referred to Turkey as part of a "triangle of evil" alongside Iran and Muslim Brotherhood.[89][90]

In 2018, he voiced his support for a Jewish homeland. Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel.[91] This is the first time that a senior Saudi royal has expressed such sentiments publicly.[92][93][94]

Vision 2030[edit]

Prince Mohammed with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Saudi Arabia, May 2017

Mohammed bin Salman took the leadership in the restructuring of Saudi Arabia's economy, which he officially announced in April 2016 when he introduced Vision 2030, the country's strategic orientation for the next 15 years. Vision 2030 plans to reform Saudi's economy towards a more diversified and privatized structure. It details goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenues and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.[95]

At the inaugural Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh in October 2017, bin Salman announced plans for the creation of Neom, a $500 billion economic zone to cover an area of 26,000 square kilometres on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast, extending into Jordan and Egypt.[96] Neom aims to attract investment in sectors including renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.[97][98] The announcement followed plans to develop a 34,000 square kilometre area across a lagoon of 50 islands on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastline into a luxury tourism destination with laws on a par with international standards.[99][100] In a further effort to boost the tourism industry, in November 2017 it was announced that Saudi Arabia would start issuing tourist visas for foreigners, beginning in 2018.[101]

Prince Mohammed bin Salman's biggest bet was his plan to restore the Saudi kingdom's dominance in global oil markets by driving the new competition into bankruptcy, by keeping the oil price low enough for a long enough period. Saudi Arabia persuaded OPEC to do the same. A few small players went bankrupt, but American frackers only shut down their less-profitable operations temporarily, and waited for oil prices to go up again. Saudi Arabia, which had been spending $100 billion a year to keep services and subsidies going, had to admit defeat in November 2016. It then cut production significantly and asked its OPEC partners to do the same.[44]

In the last week of September 2018, Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the much-awaited $6.7bn high-speed railway line connecting Mecca and Medina, two holiest cities of Islam. The Haramain Express is 450 km line travelling up to 300 km/h that can transport around 60 million passengers annually. The commercial operations of the railway began on 11 October 2018.[102]

In October 2018, Mohammed bin Salman announced that the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia’s assets were approaching $400 billion and would pass $600 billion by 2020.[103]

A project to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor was announced by bin Salman in November 2018. The kingdom aims to build 16 nuclear facilities over the next 20 years.[104] Efforts to diversify the Saudi energy sector also include wind and solar, including a 1.8 gigawatt solar plant announced in the same month as part of a long term project in partnership with SoftBank.[105]

Domestic reforms[edit]

Mohammed bin Salman significantly restricted the powers of the religious police.[12] He established an entertainment authority that began hosting comedy shows, professional wrestling events, and monster truck rallies.[12] In an interview with al Arabiya, he shared his idea for "Green cards" for non-Saudi foreigners.[106]

In February 2017, Saudi Arabia appointed its first woman to head the Saudi Stock Exchange.[107][108]

In April 2017, bin Salman announced a project to build one of the world's largest cultural, sports and entertainment cities in Al Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh. The plans for a 334-square kilometre city include a safari and a Six Flags theme park.[109][110]

Portraits of King Salman and Prince Mohammed in Jenadriyah

In February 2018, it became legally possible for Saudi women to open their own business without a male's permission.[111]

According to the Saudi Information Ministry, as of March 2018, mothers in Saudi Arabia became authorised to retain immediate custody of their children after divorce without having to file any lawsuits.[112]

Further cultural developments followed in December 2017 with Saudi Arabia's first public concert by a female singer, and in January 2018 a sports stadium in Jeddah became the first in the Kingdom to admit women.[14][113] In April 2018, the first public cinema opened in Saudi Arabia after a ban of 35 years, with plans to have more than 2,000 screens running by 2030.[114][115]

The first measures undertaken in April 2016 included new taxes and cuts in subsidies, a diversification plan, the creation of a $2 trillion Saudi sovereign wealth fund, and a series of strategic economic reforms called the National Transformation Programme.[116] Bin Salman's plans to raise capital for the sovereign wealth fund included selling off shares of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned petroleum and natural gas company,[88] with the capital to be re-invested in other sectors such as to implement the diversification plans.[117] In October 2017, the plan for Aramco's IPO listing was criticised by The Economist, which called it "a mess".[118]

Mohammed bin Salman slashed the state budget, freezing government contracts and reducing the pay of civil employees as part of drastic austerity measures.[119][44]

In September 2017, bin Salman implemented the women to drive movement's multi-decade demand to lift the ban on female drivers.[13] He legislated against some elements of Saudi Arabia's Wali system, also a topic of a many decade long campaign by women's rights activists.[120]

In October 2017, he said that the ultra-conservative Saudi state had been "not normal" for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that had governed society in a reaction to the Iranian Revolution, which successive leaders "didn't know how to deal with".[121] According to him, he aimed to have Saudi Arabia start "returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world".[122] He was telling the country's clerics that the deal the royal family struck with them after the 1979 siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca was to be renegotiated.[123] Building an industrial culture was not compatible with Wahhabism. The Wahhabis were committed to fixed social and gender relationships. These were consistent with an economy built on oil sales, but industrialization requires a dynamic culture with social relations constantly shifting.[124]

According to Politico, as of 2017, Mohammed bin Salman wished to pre-empt a repetition of the downfall of the earlier Saudi states due to familial infighting, internal malaise, external frailty and failure to modernize. Mindful of this history, instead of waiting for today's Saudi state to weaken and fall, MBS's aim was to try to save the country before it collapsed.[125]

Ayaan Hirsi Ali claimed that if bin Salman "succeeds in his modernization efforts, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing the Wahhabi radicalization agenda. A decade from now, the kingdom could look more like the United Arab Emirates, its prosperous and relatively forward-looking neighbor."[126]

Human rights[edit]

According to human rights groups, arrests of human rights activists have risen under Mohammed bin Salman.[127] Bin Salman has reportedly created the Tiger Squad, a team of assassins that act as a death squad, to target Saudi critics inside and outside Saudi Arabia.[128][129]

Among those detained in a wave of arrests in September 2017 were Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); Mustafa al-Hassan, an academic and novelist; and Essam al-Zamel, an entrepreneur.[130][131]

Ahead of the lifting of the ban on women driving in June 2018, 17 women's rights activists were arrested, including the women to drive and anti-male guardianship campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul.[132][133] Eight of the 17 were subsequently released.[134] Hatoon al-Fassi, an associate professor of women's history at King Saud University,[135] was arrested shortly afterwards.[136][137]

In August that year, the human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham and her husband – both arrested in 2015 – were put under legal threat of beheading.[138] Human Rights Watch warned that the al-Ghomgham case set a "dangerous precedent" for other women activists currently detained.[139] HRW's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said, "Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behaviour, is monstrous. Every day, the Saudi monarchy's unrestrained despotism makes it harder for its public relations teams to spin the fairy tale of 'reform' to allies and international business."[139][140][141]

In April 2019, 37 people, mostly Shia human rights activists, were executed in one of the largest mass executions of the minority sect in the kingdom's history.[142]

Foreign affairs[edit]

Military interventions in Syria and Yemen[edit]

Palestinians protest in the Gaza Strip, 9 December 2017

On 10 January 2016, The Independent reported that "the BND, the German intelligence agency, portrayed...Saudi defence minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman...as a political gambler who is destabilising the Arab world through proxy wars in Yemen and Syria."[48][44][50][143] German officials reacted to the BND's memo, saying the published statement "is not the position of the federal government".[56]

Protest in London against Crown Prince's state visit to the UK, 7 March 2018

Mohammed bin Salman leads the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen against the Houthi rebels, who in 2015 seized Sana’a and ousted the Saudi-backed Hadi government, ending multilateral efforts towards a political settlement following the 2011 Yemeni uprising.[144][145][146] Coalition airstrikes during the intervention have resulted in thousands of civilians killed or injured,[147] prompting accusations of war crimes in the intervention.[148][149][150]

Following a Houthi missile attack against Riyadh in December 2017, which was intercepted by Saudi air defense, airstrikes killed 136 Yemeni civilians and injured 87 others in eleven days.[151][152] In August 2018, the United Nations reported that all parties in the conflict were responsible for human rights violations and for actions which could be considered war crimes.[153]

Prince Mohammed is considered the architect of the war in Yemen.[154][155] The war and blockade of Yemen has cost the kingdom tens of billions of dollars, further aggravated the humanitarian crisis in the country and destroyed much of Yemen's infrastructure, but failed to dislodge the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies from the Yemeni capital.[156][119][48] More than 50,000 children in Yemen died from starvation in 2017.[157][158][159] The famine in Yemen is the direct result of the Saudi-led intervention and blockade of the rebel-held area.[160][161] In October 2018, Lise Grande, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, warned that 12 to 13 million Yemenis were at risk of starvation if the war continued for another three months.[19] On 28 March 2018, Saudi Arabia, along with its coalition partner the UAE, donated US$930 million to the United Nations which, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, "...(will) help to alleviate the suffering of millions of vulnerable people across Yemen". The funds cover almost one-third of the $2.96 billion required to implement the UN's 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.[162] Following the Houthi missile attack against Riyadh in December 2017, which was intercepted by Saudi air defense,[163] Mohammed Bin Salman retaliated with a ten-day barrage of indiscriminate airstrikes against civilian areas in Yemen held by Houthi forces, killing dozens of children.[164]

In August 2018, a report by The Intercept cited unnamed sources claiming that former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had in June 2017 intervened to stop a Saudi-Emirati plan to invade Qatar, resulting in increased pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for his removal from office.[165]

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis with Prince Mohammed, 22 March 2018

Following the murder of Khashoggi, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved a resolution to impose sanctions on people blocking humanitarian access in Yemen and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Senator Lindsey Graham said America's relationship with Saudi Arabia "is more of a burden than an asset." He also said, "The crown prince [of Saudi Arabia] is so toxic, so tainted, so flawed."[166]

2016 U.S. presidential election and Trump presidency[edit]

In August 2016, Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with an envoy representing Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi. The envoy offered help to the Trump presidential campaign.[167] The meeting included Joel Zamel, an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.[168][167]

Upon Trump's election, support for Mohammed bin Salman was described as one of the few issues where rival White House advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon agreed.[85] Mohammed bin Salman was subsequently invited to the White House and given the treatment typically afforded to foreign heads of state by diplomatic protocol, while only holding the position of Deputy Crown Prince at the time.[169] Prince Mohammed subsequently defended the Trump administration's travel ban for nationals of 7 Muslim-majority countries, stating that "Saudi Arabia does not believe that this measure is targeting Muslim countries or the religion of Islam".[170] Kushner also inquired as to how the U.S. could support Prince Mohammed in the succession process.[169] After Prince Mohammed acceded to Crown Prince, Trump reportedly said, "We've put our man on top".[171] Trump initially supported the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar,[172] despite opposition from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis,[173] though he later changed his position.[174] Prince Mohammed later reportedly claimed Kushner had provided intelligence assistance on domestic rivals to Prince Mohammed during the 2017–19 Saudi Arabian purge,[175] which Trump had personally expressed support for.[176] Trump and his administration also firmly supported Prince Mohammed during global backlash following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.[177]

Blockade of Qatar[edit]

Reuters reported that Prince Mohammed "said the dispute with Qatar could be long-lasting, comparing it to the U.S. embargo of Cuba imposed 60 years ago, but played down its impact, dismissing the Gulf emirate as "smaller than a Cairo street". Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar [in June 2017], suspending air and shipping routes with the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, which is home to the region's biggest U.S. military base."[90]

Forced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister[edit]

In November 2017, Mohammed bin Salman forced the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign when he visited Saudi Arabia. Mohammed bin Salman believed that Hariri was in the pocket of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is a major political force in Lebanon. Hariri eventually was released, went back to Lebanon and annulled his resignation.[60]

Saudi–Canadian conflict[edit]

Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement via Twitter on 2 August 2018 expressing Canada's concern over the recent arrest of Samar Badawi, a human rights activist and sister of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, and called for the release of human rights activists.[178] In response to Canada's criticism, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador, and froze trade with Canada.[179][180] The Toronto Star reported that the consensus among analysts indicated that the actions taken by Mohammed bin Salman were a "warning to the world — and to Saudi human rights activists — that his Saudi Arabia is not to be trifled with".[181]

Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi[edit]

Prince Mohammed with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on 16 October 2018
Ahmad Asiri (right) and Mohammed bin Salman (left) in 2016

In October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and a critic of the crown prince went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials reportedly believe that Khashoggi was murdered at the consulate, claiming to have specific video and audio recordings proving that Khashoggi was first tortured and then murdered, and that a medical forensics expert was part of the 15-man Saudi team seen entering and leaving the consulate at the time of the journalist's disappearance.[182] Saudi Arabia denied the accusations and Salman invited Turkish authorities to search the building as they "have nothing to hide". Saudi officials said they are "working to search for him".[183] The Washington Post reported that the Crown Prince had earlier sought to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.[184]

According to Middle East Eye, seven of the fifteen men suspected of killing Khashoggi are members of Mohammed bin Salman's personal bodyguard.[185] John Sawers, a former head of the British MI6, stated that in his judgment of the evidence it is "very likely" that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Khashoggi.[186]

In the aftermath of Kashoggi's death, multiple commentators referred to bin Salman as "Mister Bone Saw," a play on the initials MBS. The name refers to the alleged use of a bone saw to dispose of Kashoggi's remains.[187][188]

Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement in the murder and blamed the assassination on rogue operators. However, Western countries are not convinced and believe this couldn't have happened without the knowledge or approval of the prince. Donald Trump described the Saudi response to the killing as "one of the worst in the history of cover-ups." Trump also believes that the crown prince at least knew about the plan, he said "Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He's running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him."[189]

After the murder, Mohammad bin Salman's close confidant Ahmad Asiri was sacked,[190] as was former advisor Saud al-Qahtani.[191][192]

The recording of Khashoggi's killing collected by Turkish intelligence reportedly reveals that one of the members of the kill team instructed someone over the phone to "tell your boss, the deed was done." American intelligence officials believe that "boss" was a reference to the crown prince. The person who made the call was identified as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a security officer who is frequently seen travelling with the prince.[193]

Seven weeks after Khashoggi's death, Saudi Arabia, in order to "distance ... Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from the grisly murder" stated it would pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with "ordering and executing the crime."[194][195]

On 16 November 2018, it was reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had concluded with "high confidence" that Bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's murder. The CIA based its conclusion on several pieces of evidence, including an intercepted conversation in which Prince Mohammed's brother Khalid offered Khashoggi assurances that it would be safe for the journalist to enter Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul. Although the CIA reportedly had not determined whether Khalid had any foreknowledge of Khashoggi's ultimate fate upon entering the consulate, it believed that Khalid conveyed this message to Khashoggi at his brother's behest. In the CIA's analysis, the killing was most likely motivated by Prince Mohammed's privately stated belief that Khashoggi was an Islamist with problematic connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, a perception that differs markedly from the Saudi government's public remarks on Khashoggi's death.[196]

On 4 December 2018, a group of United States senators were briefed by CIA Director Gina Haspel on the murder of Khashoggi. After the briefing, senators were more than certain that Mohammad bin Salman played a major role in the killing of Khashoggi.[197] GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said, "You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intrinsically involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi." Another GOP Senator Bob Corker said that the prince "ordered, monitored, the killing" and "If he were in front of a jury, he would be convicted of murder in about 30 minutes."[198] On 5 December 2018, UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet asked for an international investigation to determine who was behind the journalist's murder.[199]

A former Saudi intelligence chief and senior member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, dismissed the CIA's reported finding that Mohammed bin Salman ordered journalist's killing, saying that "The CIA has been proved wrong before. Just to mention the invasion of Iraq for example."[200]

In March 2019, US senators accused Saudi Arabia for a number of repetitive misdeeds and criticized the crown prince, saying he has gone "full gangster".[201] The senators said the list of human rights violations by Saudi is too long that it has become difficult to comprehend what’s happening in the kingdom or even work with MbS.[202]

On June 2019, a UN report tied bin Salman to the assassination.[203]

China's camps for Muslims[edit]

In February 2019, Mohammed bin Salman defended China’s Xinjiang re-education camps for Muslims, saying "China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security."[204][205][206] China has imprisoned up to 2 million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China's north-western province of Xinjiang in concentration camps, where they are subject to abuse and torture.[206][204] Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, called Prince Mohammed’s remarks "disgusting" and a defence of "the use of concentration camps against Uighur Muslims".[207]

Philanthropy[edit]

Mohammed bin Salman established himself as the chairman of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Foundation, otherwise known as MiSK, which puts in place activities empowering and enabling the younger generation, in line with Vision 2030 goals of a more developed nation.[208] The foundation was a partner of the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum for Change in 2015.[209]

The foundation focuses on the country's youth and provides different means of fostering talent, creative potential, and innovation in a healthy environment that offers opportunities in arts and sciences. The foundation pursues these goals by establishing programs and partnering with local and global organizations. It intends to develop intellectual capability in youth, as well as unlock the potential of all Saudi people.[210] Saudi journalists traveling with Prince Mohammed on foreign delegations have been paid up to $100,000 in cash.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Mohammed with Nicolas Sarkozy, former President of France, and Juan Carlos Varela, President of Panama, at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, 14 June 2018

Mohammed bin Salman's net worth is estimated at US$3.0 billion.[211]

In 2015, he purchased the Italian-built and Bermuda-registered yacht Serene from Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler for €500 million.[212][213] In 2015, Mohammad purchased the Chateau Louis XIV in France for over $300 million.[214][215]

In December 2017, a number of sources reported that the Crown Prince, using his close associate Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Farhan as an intermediary, had bought Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi; the sale in November at $450.3 million set a new record price for a work of art.[216][217][218][219] This report has been denied by the auctioneer Christie's, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia,[220] and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, which has announced that it is the actual owner of the painting.[221] The painting is presently located at its permanent home in the Louvre Museum's extension in Abu Dhabi, UAE.[222][223]

Mohammed has travelled extensively around the world, meeting with politicians, business leaders and celebrities.[213] In June 2016, he travelled to Silicon Valley and met key people in the US high tech industry, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.[224]

In early 2018, Prince Mohammed visited the United States, where he met with many politicians, business people and Hollywood stars, including President Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Michael Bloomberg, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Branson, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Dwayne Johnson.[225][226] President Trump praised his relationship with Prince Mohammed.[227] Mohammed also visited the United Kingdom, where he met with Prime Minister Theresa May, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William.[228]

Mohammed advocates fiscal austerity and leads a "crackdown on corruption and self-enrichment".[215]

Mohammed bin Salman married his cousin, Princess Sarah bint Mashhoor bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2008, and together they have four children.[27][229][230]

Honours[edit]

Foreign Honours

Ancestry[edit]

8. Abdul Rahman bin Faisal
4. Ibn Saud
9. Sarah bint Ahmed Al Kabir bin Mohammed Al Sudairi
2. Salman Al Saud
10. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Sudairi
5. Hassa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi
11. Sharifa bint Ali bin Mohammed Al Suwaidi
1. Mohammed Al Saud
12. Sultan bin Hathleen al-Ajmi
6. Falah bin Sultan al-Ajmi
3. Fahda bint Falah al-Ajmi

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Further information[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Prince Muhammad bin Nayef
First Deputy Prime Minister
21 June 2017 – present
Succeeded by
Incumbent
Preceded by
Prince Muhammad bin Nayef
Second Deputy Prime Minister
29 April 2015 – 21 June 2017
Succeeded by
Vacant
Preceded by
Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Minister of Defence
23 January 2015 – present
Succeeded by
Incumbent
Preceded by
Khaled al-Tuwaijri
Chief of the Royal Court
23 January 2015 – present
Succeeded by
Incumbent
Saudi Arabian royalty
Preceded by
Prince Muhammad bin Nayef
Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
29 April 2015 – 21 June 2017
Succeeded by
Vacant
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
21 June 2017 – present
Succeeded by
Incumbent