Mohammad bin Salman

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Mohammad bin Salman
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud - 2017.jpg
Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud
Born (1985-08-31) 31 August 1985 (age 32)
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Spouse Sara bint Mashoor bin Abdulaziz Al Saud[1]
Issue 3
Full name
Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
House House of Saud
Father King Salman
Mother Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan bin Hathleen al-Ajmi
Religion Sunni Islam

Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Arabic: محمد بن سلمان بن عبدالعزيز آل سعود‎; born 31 August 1985), also known as MBS,[2] is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, First Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia[3] and the youngest minister of defense in the world.[4] Mohammad bin Salman is also president of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs. He has been described as the power behind the throne of his father, King Salman.[5] He was appointed Crown Prince[6] in June 2017 following his father's decision to remove Muhammad bin Nayef from all positions, making Mohammad bin Salman heir apparent to the throne.[7][8][9] . He has been accused of risking instability in the Middle East through his detention of human rights activists, intervention in Yemen, escalation of Saudi's diplomatic crisis with Qatar[10], as well as his arrests of members of the Saudi royal family in November 2017.[11][12][13] His proposed Saudi 2030 vision includes economic, social and religious changes, and plans to list shares of the state oil company Aramco.[14][15][16]

Early life and education[edit]

Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud was born on 31 August 1985 in Jeddah.[17][note 1] He is the son of King Salman from his third spouse,[19] Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan bin Hathleen.[1] She is the granddaughter of Rakan bin Hithalayn, who was the head of the Al Ajman tribe.[20]

Prince Mohammad bin Salman is the eldest of his full siblings,[19] Turki bin Salman, former chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, and Khalid bin Salman.[21] Prince Mohammad holds a bachelor's degree in law from King Saud University.[22]


After graduating from college, Mohammad bin Salman spent several years in the private sector before becoming the personal aide of his father. He worked as a consultant for the Experts Commission, working for the Saudi Cabinet.[23]

On 15 December 2009, Mohammad bin Salman entered politics as a special advisor to his father when the latter was the governor of Riyadh Province.[24] At this time, Prince Mohammad 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.[25]

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 and making Mohammad bin Salman his private advisor.[26]

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 Mohammad bin Salman succeeded him in the post. He was also given the rank of minister.[27][28][29] On 25 April 2014 Prince Mohammad was appointed state minister.[25]

Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince[edit]

Prince Mohammad with United States Secretary of State John Kerry, 7 May 2015
Prince Mohammad with Russian President Vladimir Putin, 18 June 2015
United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomes Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud to the Pentagon, 13 May 2015
President Donald Trump speaks with Prince bin Salman, Washington, D.C., 14 March 2017
Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, 16 March 2017

On 23 January 2015, King Abdullah died, Salman took the throne and Prince Mohammad bin Salman was appointed Minister of Defense.[30] He was also named as the Secretary General of the Royal Court on the same date.[31] In addition he retained his post as the Minister of the State.[32][33]

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. In the context of an increasingly volatile neighboring situation, Prince Mohammad 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.[34] In March 2015, Saudi Arabia began leading a coalition of countries allied against the Houthi rebels.[35] According to The New York Times, "Although all agreed that the Kingdom had to respond when the Houthis seized the Yemeni capital and forced the government into exile, Prince Mohammad bin Salman took the lead, launching the war in March 2015 without full coordination across the security services." Prince Mohammed bin Salman maintained restrictive coordination across security services and drove operations from the Maldives. Saudi National Guard Minister Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who was out of the country, was not in the loop of the operations, and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter officially declared having trouble reaching him for days after the first strikes."[36] While Prince Mohammad 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.[37][38]

In April 2015, Muhammad bin Nayef and Prince Mohammad bin Salman respectively became Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince, under King Salman’s royal decrees.[39]

Regarding his role in the military intervention, Prince Mohammad 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.[40][41][37]

Crown Prince[edit]

Mohammad bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince on 21 June 2017, following his father's decision to depose Muhammad bin Nayef, making him heir apparent to the throne.[42][43] The change of succession had been predicted in December 2015 by an unusually blunt and public memo published by the German Federal Intelligence Service,[44][45] which was subsequently rebuked by the German government.[46]

On the day he became Crown Prince, U.S. President Donald Trump called Mohammad 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.[47] Mohammad 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."[48]

Persecution of Human Rights Activists[edit]

Abdullah al-Hamid, a poet, former Arabic professor, human rights activist and a co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA).He has been imprisoned seven times for supporting the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia. He is serving an 11-years jail sentence since 2013.

Despite promised reforms, the arrests and persecutions rate of human rights activists has kept rising under Mohammad bin Salman. Amnesty international and Human rights watch continue to criticize Saudi government for its violations of human rights. Saudi activists and dissidents currently serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful activism include Waleed Abulkhair, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Fadhil al-Manasif, Sulaiman al-Rashoodi, Abdulkareem al-Khodr, Fowzan al-Harbi, Raif Badawi, Saleh al-Ashwan, Abdullah al-Hamid, Alaa Brinji, and Nadhir al-Majed. Activists Issa al-Nukheifi and Essam Koshak are currently on trial. In late July, 2017 a Saudi appeals court upheld an eight-year prison sentence against Abdulaziz al-Shubaily. Mohammed al-Oteibi and Abdullah Attawi are still on trial for forming a human rights organization in 2013[49] [50] [51] . On 10 November 2017, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia sentenced Internet activist Naima Al-Matrood[52] to six years in jail followed by six years of travel ban after her sentence is served.

Executing Peaceful Protesters[edit]

Among those executed in 2016 were Ali Sa’eed al-Ribh[53][54] , whose trial judgment indicates that he was under 18 at the time of some of the crimes for which he was sentenced to death. As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is legally obliged to ensure that no one under 18 at the time of a crime is sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Ali al-Nimr arrested at 17 and sentenced to death by crucifixion at just 18

Ali al-Nimr,[55] Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, were arrested individually in 2012 aged 17, 16 and 17 respectively are at risk of being executed at any time. On 10 July, 2017 Abdulkareem al-Hawaj[56][57] had his death sentence upheld on appeal. He was found guilty of crimes committed when he was 16. The four young men were convicted of security-related offences after taking part in anti-government protests[58].

Use of Counterterrorism Law to Prosecute Human Rights Activists[edit]

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Mr. Ben Emmerson, visited Saudi Arabia from 30 April to 4 May 2017. In his report[59], Saudi uses its terrorism tribunal and counterterrorism law to unjustly prosecute human rights defenders, writers, and peaceful critics[60].  The report states:

"the Special Rapporteur would like to share some observations, concerns and recommendations with regard to the unacceptably broad definition of terrorism, and the use of the 2014 counter-terrorism law and other national security provisions against human rights defenders, writers, bloggers, journalists and other peaceful critics. He would also like to raise the continuing problems relating to the prevention of torture of terrorist suspects during investigation; the reported use of confessions obtained by duress during interrogation, the use of the death penalty following proceedings in which there are reported due process shortcomings"[61].

Political and economic changes[edit]

On 29 January 2015, Prince Mohammad was named the chair of the newly established Council for Economic and Development Affairs,[62] replacing the disbanded Supreme Economic Commission.[62] In April 2015, Prince Mohammad bin Salman was given control over Saudi Aramco by royal decree following his appointment as deputy crown prince.[63]

Vision 2030[edit]

Prince Mohammad 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.[64]

Prince Mohammad 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.[37]

Domestic reforms[edit]

Prince bin Salman has successfully lobbied for regulations restricting the powers of the religious police.[36] Prince bin Salman established an entertainment authority that has hosted comedy shows, pro wrestling events, and monster truck rallies.[36] In an interview with al Arabiya he also shared his idea for "Green cards" for non-Saudi foreigners.[65]

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.[66] Prince bin Salman plans to raise capital for the sovereign wealth fund by selling off shares of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned petroleum and natural gas company,[63] with the capital to be re-invested in other sectors such as to implement the diversification plans.[67] However, as of October 2017, the plan for Aramco’s IPO listing has been labeled "a mess" by The Economist.[68]

Prince Mohammad bin Salman slashed the state budget, freezing government contracts and reducing the pay of civil employees as part of drastic austerity measures. Within hours of doing so, he bought the Serene.[69][37]

Prince Mohammad is seen as the figure behind the removal of the ban on female drivers in September 2017.[70] He has also chipped away at Saudi Arabia’s Wali system.[71]

In October 2017, he said the ultra-conservative Saudi state had been "not normal" for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”.[72] According to him, Saudi Arabia is "returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world".[73] In essence, 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 is being renegotiated.[74] 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.[75]

2017 purge[edit]

In May 2017, Mohammad 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".[76] 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.[77][78]

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.[77][79]

Some analysts saw the arrests as 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.[80] 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."[81]

Other analysts see the purge as 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.”[82] 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".[83] 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.[84] 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".[85]

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".[86]

A Eurasia Group director states that "Mohammed bin Salman is in effect taking steps to separate the Al Saud family from the state...The process of destroying old elite networks that monopolized access to profitable contracts bodes well for the business environment."[76]

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!"[87][88] French President Macron, who visited Riyadh days after the purge, when asked about the purge "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," Macron said.[89]


Mohammad bin Salman established himself as the chairman of the Prince Mohammad bin Salman Foundation, otherwise known as MiSK, which puts in place activities empowering and enabling the younger generation, in line with Vision 2030’s goals of a more developed.[90] The foundation was a partner of the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum for Change in 2015.[91] In 2017, the with Vision 2030 goals aligned new city, Neom was announced.[92]

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.[93] Saudi journalists traveling with Prince Mohammed on foreign delegations have been paid up to $100,000 in cash.[36]


In late 2015, Prince Mohammad 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.[36] In addition, 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.[36]

On 10 January 2016, The Independent reported that "the BND, the German intelligence agency, portrayed...Saudi defence minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin a political gambler who is destabilising the Arab world through proxy wars in Yemen and Syria."[39][37][41][94] German officials reacted to the BND’s memo, saying the published statement "is not the position of the federal government".[46]

During the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, thousands of civilians were reportedly killed in a major bombing campaign, prompting accusations of war crimes in the intervention.[95][96][97] So far, the war has already cost the kingdom tens of billions of dollars and destroyed much of Yemen's infrastructure but failed to dislodge the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies from the Yemeni capital.[69][39][38]

Personal life[edit]

Mohammad bin Salman has a lavish lifestyle. One incident which illustrates this is his spur-of-the-moment purchase of the Italian-built and Bermuda-registered yacht Serene from Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler, for a price of €500 million reported by The New York Times Magazine.[98][99]

Mohammad has travelled extensively around the world, meeting with politicians, business leaders and celebrities.[99] In June 2016, he travelled to Silicon Valley and met key people in the US high tech industry, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.[100]