Rapid Appointments: At the beginning of 2015, Prince Muhammad bin Salman was largely unknown in political and diplomatic circles. Since his father’s accession to the throne in January 2015, Prince Muhammad has been swiftly appointed to a number of powerful positions. He was first appointed Minister of Defence, and also named Secretary General of the Royal Court. Then Prince Muhammad was named the chair of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, and was given control over Saudi Aramco by royal decree. In June 2017, he was appointed as Crown Prince of the Kingdom following his father’s decision to remove Prince Muhammad bin Nayef from all positions.
Military Challenges: As Minister of Defence the young prince has to deal with many key military issues which Saudi Arabia is currently involved in. He is perhaps most personally identified with the air campaigns against Houthi strongholds in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is also supporting the monarchy in Bahrain, and arming the anti-Assad forces in Syria. His ascension to the role of Crown Prince coincided with geopolitical tensions among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the cutting of diplomatic ties with Qatar, which has subsequently turned into a full blockade.
Catalyst of Change: The Crown Prince has been linked to major changes taking place in the Kingdom: allowing women to drive, hold their own passports and move independently, the (re)opening of cinemas and holding of pop concerts, a crackdown on corruption (including the arrest of princes and prominent businessmen), and the proposal to float Saudi Aramco to mention a few.
Vision 2030: As Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman launched “Vision 2030”, a comprehensive, multi-year plan for the future of Saudi Arabia. The ambitious plan seeks to revitalize the Saudi economy by bolstering the Kingdom as a global investments powerhouse, and moving away from oil-dependency as the largest source of national income. It also seeks to strengthen government efficiency and the promotion of a “tolerant, thriving, and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all.”
The Khashoggi Assassination: Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi was a prominent journalist and Saudi Arabian dissident who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. Forced into exile from Saudi Arabia in 2017 because of his criticisms of authoritarian rule and foreign policy, Khashoggi had many enemies in high places. Although the Saudi government denied any knowledge of the murder, they were later forced to admit that their officials had been involved, but didn’t go as far as the CIA who concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. The murder of Khashoggi within an internationally recognised place of sanctuary adds further to the horror of the crime.