14 Things You Need To Know About Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
Mohammed bin Salman — the heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia who has presented himself as a progressive reformer — has become implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, known colloquially as MbS, has been in the headlines lately for his possible role in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
As the story — and its repercussions — seem unlikely to fade anytime soon, here's what you need to know about MbS moving forward:
1. The son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, MbS was named defense minister in 2015 at age 29 when his father took the throne. It was in that role — which he still holds — that he launched a bombing campaign in Yemen that same year.
The coalition of Gulf states that Saudi Arabia assembled is targeting the Houthi, a group of dissidents turned rebels that had taken control of the country. Saudi Arabia — and the United States — has said the group is backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia's main regional rival.
The campaign in Yemen has been criticized for years now for its indiscriminate nature. More than 17,000 civilians have died since the war's beginning. The United Nations warned on Tuesday of "an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen" as a result of the ongoing fighting.
2. His father, King Salman, appointed him to the position of crown prince in 2017, bumping his uncle from the spot in a surprise move and becoming de facto ruler of the country in the process.
Prince Mohammed's ascension marked the first time that the crown would pass to the son of a current monarch, as we noted last year. (That post, headlined "Saudi Arabia's Next King Will Be a Millennial, So That's Weird," feels a little too lighthearted in retrospect, given what came next.) Since the death of King Abdulaziz al-Saud, the first Saudi king, the throne has been gone to the next youngest of his sons. This has meant that the age of the kings has continued to rise — and their time on the throne continued decline — as time has passed. Prince Mohammed, on the other hand, has the potential to remain on the throne for up to 50 years once he's eventually coronated.
3. He quickly set out a seemingly progressive agenda, declaring that he'd work to revitalize the kingdom's economy and allow cinemas and live music. He was also key to the announcement that the kingdom would lift its ban on women driving themselves in Saudi Arabia — an act that would be marred right before it came into effect.
5. Then last November, MbS began to target his enemies, real and potential. Using his new position as head of an anti-corruption investigative body, MbS detained hundreds of the kingdom's richest businesspeople, including members of the royal family, in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — one of the richest individuals in Saudi Arabia — was held for 83 days. The Wall Street Journal later reported that the government demanded he pay $6 billion for his release. (He has not publicly commented on what was necessary to gain his freedom.) Others among the royals also reportedly had to cough up funds to the government in order to secure their exit.
6. Just hours before that crackdown kicked off, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri abruptly resigned — while in Saudi Arabia.
After the shock resignation, Hariri then stayed in Saudi Arabia nearly two weeks, much to the concern of Lebanese politicians and the confusion of the world. Lebanon's president reportedly told foreign ambassadors that Hariri had been "kidnapped" in Saudi Arabia.
When he finally did return to Lebanon, Hariri immediately rescinded his resignation. Later reports indicated that he was detained while in Saudi Arabia soon after landing, due to his unwillingness to denounce Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group in Lebanon that is considered a terrorist group to the US and Europe and has both armed and political wings. The political wing is part of Lebanon's ruling coalition.
7. Meanwhile, MbS proved himself to be a big spender. He reportedly paid a record $405 million for a Leonardo da Vinci painting, breaking records for the most spent on a piece of art at an auction.
8. The US welcomed him with open arms when, in April, the prince took a nearly nearly three-week-long tour of the US to do some further rebranding for his kingdom.
While on his jaunt, he visited the White House and Pentagon, dined with Morgan Freeman at Rupert Murdoch's home, spent time at MIT, and met with Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Bill Gates of Microsoft in Seattle.
9. But the month after his tour concluded, and weeks before the ban on women driving was set to be lifted, the Saudi authorities arrested a string of activists, including some who'd long advocated for ending the driving ban.
10. Adding on top of that, Saudi Arabia and Canada began a spat over human rights that led to the Canadian ambassador being expelled.
11. But all of that was largely considered par for the course for Saudi Arabia, a US ally that has escaped much of the harsh criticism that has been leveled at similarly repressive regimes.
12. That changed earlier this month, when Khashoggi disappeared following a meeting at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The official story from Saudi Arabia shifted several times over the weeks, from Khashoggi leaving the consulate soon after his scheduled appointment to Khashoggi dying after getting into a fistfight with a team of Saudi operatives who just happened to be in Istanbul to dying in a chokehold. The Saudi government has blamed Saud al-Qahtani, one of MbS's top aides, for Khashoggi's death.
As of Friday, King Salman announced, Mohammed bin Salman has been named the head of a body that will investigate Khashoggi's death and overhaul the intelligence services.
14. And when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — whose government has provided many leaked details into the investigation to the press — addressed Khashoggi's death on Tuesday, he made clear he believed King Salman was cooperating with the inquiry — but notably did not include his son, the crown prince, in that assessment.
15. The uproar surrounding Khashoggi's death caused several major businesses and government officials to withdraw from a long-planned Saudi investment conference that began on Tuesday.
But MbS seemed decidedly unbothered during a panel at the conference on Wednesday, joking about the previous year's detention of Hariri — with Hariri sitting next to him — and insisting that "justice will prevail" in the investigation into Khashoggi's death.