Saudi Arabia: The untold story of the rise of Mohammed bin Salman
Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is probably the most talked about crown prince in the history of the Wahhabi kingdom, in a political culture where leaders are usually careful not to air their dirty laundry in public and fear abrupt decisions and risk-taking above all else.
This is part 1 of a 6-part series
With a track record that includes the war in Yemen, a boycott on Qatar, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the detention of leading Saudi figures in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton and plans to build a futuristic city in the middle of the desert, MBS makes for a very unconventional crown prince.
Since his rise to power in 2015, the man who is now crown prince has thoroughly shaken up the Saudi status quo, dramatically breaking with his country’s political culture. MBS is not interested in having lengthy, all-night discussions to reach complex compromises between princes and tribal chiefs. Nor does the impulsive bearded prince have the patience to prioritise experience and caution in his decision-making. He prefers to go it alone and act swiftly.
As for carrying out the decisions – that is not his problem. He is not worried about stirring up the Saudi gerontocracy or falling flat on his face because his decisions tend to be motivated by a desire to shock rather than some carefully crafted strategy. Whatever the cost, MBS believes in fertile chaos. To his credit, his methods flummoxed his rivals and propelled him in the space of a few years to the highest level of Saudi leadership.
From prince on the sidelines to crown prince
The man who, barring an unlikely turn of events, will one day ascend to the throne, was not preordained to end up under the biggest spotlight. One of thousands of princes, he is not even King Salman’s eldest son.
When the king of Saudi Arabia was governor of Riyadh, he probably never imagined that one of the sons from his third marriage would become the strongest pillar of the family in his old age. But that has indeed come to pass: whatever MBS’s shortcomings, against all odds he has managed to carve out a path to the crown princeship.
Two recently released books trace his journey to the top, beginning with his adolescent years – during which he grappled with fears of inadequacy, even as a member of the royal family – and progressing towards his days of infiltrating and manipulating Twitter and ousting his chief rival from the throne, his cousin Muhammad bin Nayef (MbN).
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The first, Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power, was written by Wall Street Journal reporters Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck. The second is Ben Hubbard’s The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman.
In this series of articles, we examine the untold story of the rise of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.