Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud as crown prince on Wednesday, placing him first-in-line to the throne replacing Saudi’s counter-terrorism czar Prince Mohammed bin Nayef who had been appointed as the crown prince in 2015. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef also held the powerful position of the country’s interior minister overseeing security. He for years as the kingdom’s counter-terrorism chief had put down an al Qaeda campaign of bombings in 2003-06.
Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud currently oversees a vast portfolio as defence minister and head of an economic council tasked with overhauling the country’s economy. He had previously been the second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long suspected his rise to power under his father’s reign might also accelerate his ascension to the throne.
Born on August 31, 1985, Mohammed is the King’s third wife’s eldest son. Armed with a law degree, Mohammed first chose to explore the private sector before joining his father in politics as his advisor when he was the Governor of Riyadh. As he continued to climb the political ladder, Salman started looking at the future of the oil-rich country itself.
While he was once banned from setting foot in the Ministry of Defence by his uncle King Abdullah, the two later grew close on the prospect of secure an oil-less future for Saudi Arabia. When King Abdullah died, Salman was given a portfolio larger than the Crown Prince himself by being named the deputy Crown Prince as his father headed the throne. Salman has potentially become more powerful since then.
Deputy Crown Prince Salman got to work from the first second that he assumed position. Amid panic that the country was burning through its foreign reserves faster than one could comprehend and that it was only two years away from bankruptcy, it was Salman who came up with a plan that sought to stabilise the economy. There had been a $200 billion budget shortfall due to fast increasing oil revenues that could hamper the only way Saudi Arabia paid for its export – oil revenues account for the kingdom’s 90 per cent state budget and that was threatened.
In April 2016, Salman launched “Vision for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” a plan to bring about historic economic and social changes, which also included the creation of the world’s largest sovereign fund. Further, he reduced huge subsidies that the residents received on gasoline, electricity, and water. Added tax and VAT was to be imposed on luxury goods and sugar drinks. The reasoning behind these taxes and subsidy cuts is to generate non-oil revenue of $100 billion a year by 2020 apart from the oil revenue.
Much like drain the swamp chant of the US, Prince Salman also echoes a similar idea. “We don’t want to exert any pressure on them. We want to exert pressure on wealthy people,” Bloomberg quoted him as saying.
Salman also believes in greater rights for women and has shown that he might be willing to give freedom to women who currently cannot drive or cannot leave the house without permission of a male relative. “We believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain,” the prince was quoted in Bloomberg. According to a former US senior military official, the prince is waiting for an opportune moment to confront the religious establishment. He told Bloomberg, “[Salman] said, ‘If women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammad], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels.'”
His moves on subsidies have not been well received by the people who have taken to Twitter to vent their frustration as the prince continues to rely less and less on oil revenue.
“We don’t care about oil prices—$30 or $70, they are all the same to us. This battle is not my battle,” he said.
He is also famous in the US and Saudi Arabia’s warm ties with US after President Donald Trump’s visit is said to have quickened his accession to the current position. When he met former president Barack Obama, the latter described him as “extremely knowledgeable, very smart and wise beyond his years.”
(With inputs from AP and Bloomberg)