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Mohammed bin Salman, stubborn heir transforming Saudi Arabia

#Mohammed #bin #Salman #stubborn #heir #transforming #Saudi #Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has rocked the conservative kingdom with dizzying reforms and removed all threats to its status since becoming de facto ruler of the world’s largest oil producer five years ago.

The stubborn heir drew international loathing after Saudi agents killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but US President Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom this week is likely to restore his position on the international scene and rouse world leaders forcing the world to deal with it they like it or not.

Prince Mohammed is a towering figure with a full beard, deep snarling voice and seemingly limitless energy. He’s known for his outsize ambitions, from building the futuristic megacity NEOM to leading the seven-year war in neighboring Yemen.

The brash 36-year-old, widely known as “MBS” and said to have a fondness for fast food and the “Call of Duty” video games, is also fabulously wealthy and owns a $500 million yacht, a French chateau and according to reports that have been officially denied, a $450 million painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

Unlike other Saudi princes with their British accents, smart suits and Oxford degrees, MBS embraces the country’s Bedouin roots, typically donning a traditional robe and sandals, and treating friends and family to sumptuous roast lamb in luxurious desert camps.

After charting his path to power from relative obscurity, Prince Mohammed has overseen the greatest transformation in modern history of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter and host to Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina.

Under his rule, the kingdom’s religious police were fanged, cinemas reopened, foreign tourists were welcomed and Saudi Arabia hosted a film festival, operas, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, heavyweight boxing, professional wrestling and a massive rave festival.

But he has also jailed critics and arrested and threatened some 200 princes and businessmen at Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel in a sweeping purge of the nation’s elite as he cracked down on corruption in 2017, cementing his power.

His image was tarnished most severely by the brutal murder of Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, which led to the crown prince’s sentencing, despite Riyadh’s insistence that rogue agents had carried out the killing.

“MBS is a fiercely divisive character, hailed by supporters as a long-awaited game-changer in a region that craves it, and dismissed by enemies as a brutal dictator in the making,” Ben Hubbard wrote in “MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman”.

“He is determined to give the Saudis a bright, prosperous future and exercises an unwavering will to crush his enemies. Combined in varying doses, these attributes are likely to guide his actions well into the future.”

– “Mr. Everything” –

Prince Mohammed, son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was born on August 31, 1985. He is one of hundreds of grandchildren of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, and grew up in a palace in Riyadh along with his mother Fahda, one of his father’s four wives, and his five brothers.

“As the sixth son of the 25th son of the founding king, there was little reason to believe that he would rise in importance,” Hubbard wrote. “And for most of his life few people did.”

He earned a law degree from King Saud University in Riyadh, but never studied abroad and soon worked as a special adviser to his father, the then governor of Riyadh.

When King Salman ascended the throne in early 2015, he appointed Prince Mohammed as defense minister.

Soon the young man was also coordinating economic policy, overseeing the state oil company Saudi Aramco and overseeing the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen.

Within a year he held so many portfolios that diplomats called him “Mr. called everything.

The prince – now a father of three boys and two girls who, unlike other Saudi royals, only has one wife – reportedly worked 16-hour days and was inspired by Winston Churchill and Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’.

His rise to power was rapid, succeeding his older cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who became heir apparent in 2017. Three years later, Prince Nayef was reportedly arrested along with a brother of King Salman.

Prince Mohammed has promised to forge a “moderate” Saudi Arabia and is courting international investors for his far-reaching Vision 2030 plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy.

“We want to lead normal lives,” he once told business leaders in Riyadh. “All we do is return to what we were – a moderate Islam, open to all religions and open to the world.

“Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30 and quite frankly we are not going to spend the next 30 years of our lives engaging with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.”

– ‘Fire Brigade of Ideas’ –

As he rose to prominence, he toured the United States, enchanting leaders in the White House and on Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

New York Times writer Thomas Friedman recounted how the prince “woke me down with a fire hose full of new ideas for transforming his country” in a late-night interview.

Perhaps his most over-ambitious initiative is the $500 billion NEOM project on the Red Sea coast, to be solar-powered and manned by robots, which the prince describes as a “civilizational leap for mankind.”

Mirroring the hopes of the country’s young population, Prince Mohammed has eased restrictions on women’s rights, allowing them to drive cars, attend sporting events and concerts alongside men, and obtain passports without the consent of a male guardian.

However, the reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissidents, including intellectuals and women’s rights activists, part of an apparent strategy to stamp out any vestige of opposition before King Salman formally handed over power.

Internationally, he has pursued a more assertive foreign policy, plunging the kingdom into a quagmire of regional rivalries: the war in Yemen, hostility towards Shia power Iran, a three-year blockade by Qatar until 2021 and the alleged imprisonment of the Lebanese prime minister for several tense days.

Prince Mohammed, who once publicly berated US President Barack Obama for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s rights, forged a strong bond with Donald Trump and particularly his son-in-law Jared Kushner, which served him well during the dispute surrounding Khashoggi’s death performed.

The prince first faced a renewed scrutiny of his human rights record from Biden, who released an intelligence report saying MBS had “authorized an operation” to capture or kill Khashoggi.

However, Biden took no action against the crown prince and this week the couple will meet on Saudi soil, despite an earlier promise to make the country a “pariah”.

This postponement is perhaps an acknowledgment that Prince Mohammed, still in his 30s, could rule Saudi Arabia for half a century or more.

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#Mohammed #bin #Salman #stubborn #heir #transforming #Saudi #Arabia

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