A coffee break is an ideal meeting time for someone as quietly frenetic as Frannie Léautier. At the end of a long day of her virtual meetings ... in several different time zones, we connect via the ubiquitous Zoom, sipping our East African coffee as we work through my lengthy roster of questions.
Since he became crown prince of Saudi Arabia in 2017, he has been appointing loyal members of his inner circle to high-level government positions, putting a youthful stamp on the kingdom’s institutions in the process.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Oddly enough, a controversy about a piece of artwork is what brought Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, back in the spotlight. He spent a cool $450m in 2017 to acquire the Leonardo da Vinci-attributed Salvator Mundi painting, but its origin has stirred debate among experts: did the master artist have no hand in the work at all or did he play some small or even significant part in the making of the Renaissance masterpiece?
Whatever the answers may be, this matter is unlikely to stymie the rising power of the crown prince, who has gradually been appointing his trusted associates to high-level government positions. MBS has put a significantly youthful stamp on a kingdom that prior to his rise had been chiefly ruled by a gerontocracy.
Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud
In 2017, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud placed a proxy bid for a ‘mystery buyer from the Middle East’ — the identity of which was later revealed as none other than the crown prince himself –– during an auction for the famous 60-centimetre painting attributed to Da Vinci. Though Prince Badr comes from a less influential branch of the royal family, that has not kept him from being one of the crown prince’s close associates.
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Born just two weeks after his cousin in 1985, Prince Badr grew up with MBS and they were childhood playmates. Today his duties include heading up the kingdom’s international partnerships — such as with the Arab cultural institution Institut du monde arabe in Paris — in a bid to develop archaeological tourism in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, Prince Badr became the first culture minister in the country’s history.
Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
A strategic position if ever there was one, the national guard minister was a role long held by Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah Al Saud who — as the son of the previous king, Abdullah — was one of MBS’s potential rivals when Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was crowned king of Saudi Arabia in 2015.
Prince Mutaib was part of a group of Saudi leaders who were held captive in 2017 at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, though he was eventually released after reaching a ‘mutual’ agreement with the government.
The son of King Abdullah — who was the commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard prior to succeeding the throne — served as acting national guard minister, but as a formality. However in December 2018, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud took the reins at the ministry of national guard, the most loyal institution to the royal family. The 34-year-old minister does not seem to have any security sector experience, given that he graduated from King Saud University in Riyadh with a degree in business administration. But then again, education was not MBS’s main criterion for his appointment.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud Al Saud
The story is simple: a royal decree dated 21 June 2017 announcing the appointment of MBS as crown prince also made Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud Al Saud the new interior minister. He took over for Mohammed bin Nayef who was stripped of the title of crown prince under the same decree.
This shows just how much the fate of Prince Abdulaziz, 38, is closely tied to the fortunes of MBS. Generally stingy with compliments, the crown prince went as far as sending the interior minister a message in April 2018 — less than one year after Abdulaziz’s appointment — congratulating him on the kingdom’s lower crime rate.
Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Fahd Al Saud
If Hermes — the Greek messenger god with winged sandals — were a Saudi royal, he would be Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Fahd Al Saud. The grandson of the late Saudi king, Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, has indeed become the favourite envoy of King Salman and MBS; whether he is being dispatched to Tokyo, Algiers, Bahrain or Kuwait. The 41-year-old prince currently serves as minister of state.
When it comes to royal life, Prince Turki enjoys visiting Morocco and has a particular penchant for Tangier, where, according to the Moroccan news site Le 360, he attended a football match between FC Barcelona and FC Sevilla in August 2018 during the Spanish Super Cup tournament.
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