Complex Made Simple

Saudi Crown Prince is the changing face of Saudi Leadership- Part I

Saudi Crown Prince is on a crucial overseas business and PR trip that has seen him already land on Egyptian soil and striking an important deal that goes to support his $100bn NEOM project by the Red Sea.

The arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to the cusp of the throne represented a dramatic turning point for the Kingdom.

It meant youth was going to be given a chance to make much needed changes in order for Saudi to undergo a transformation in line with a new world order.

The Guardian, interviewing a veteran business leader, quoted him as saying: “The only way that this could take place – change of this scale – was if there was a young leader who had the patience. Every Saudi leader before him has been 70 or 80 years old when they took the throne and they have not had the capacity to attempt anything like this.

These are changes that challenge traditional governance, and which are opposed to conservative ideologies that have dominated the kingdom for decades since its founding in 1932.

But the march is on for the prince behind Vision 2030.

Revealed: Meeting minutes of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed and Egypt’s SISI

The face of change
After Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince in June 2017, the young Saudi royal was seen kissing the hand of his elder cousin whom he replaced, Mohammed bin Nayaf.  “I will always need your guidance and advice,” then 31-year-old prince said.

Since then, the Kingdom went through a radical power shift that is reshaping the leadership of Saudi.

The Financial Times says the move “represents the most significant shake-up within the Saudi ruling family for 50 years.”

“If it succeeds, it could position Crown Mohammed to reign for decades and decisively reshape the kingdom,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of Rice University.

FT said the crown prince was little known outside royal circles 3 years ago, but he first rose to prominence in the absolute monarchy when his father appointed him defense minister in January 2015 and deputy crown prince three months later.

Read: Shockwaves rumble across Saudi: Kingdom’s trashing traditional taboos

Scripting change

In March 2015, then Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman led the country into a war in Yemen, in efforts meant to consolidate regional power by bringing on board a coalition of countries and face the rising threat of Iran backed Houthis.

Since becoming deputy crown prince, King Salman’ successor announced the first details of Saudi Vision 2030 on 25 April 2016, a plan to wean Saudi from dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and attract FDI onto several sectors  such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.

It also entailed a national transformation plan (NTP 2020) consisting of spending some $72bn in a reform program that aims at creating 1.2 million private sector jobs by 2020 and distill an ineffective public sector from non-performing elements.

That was massive and though highly celebrated in the kingdom, Saudi Vision 2030 was well received in international business circles albeit with significant measures of skepticism.

Read: Who’s in the news again? Saudi Women! What are they up to now?

In January 2016, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman stunned the world by announcing the biggest initial public offering (IPO) in history.

In 2019, he will be overseeing plans to sell a 5% stake in Saudi Aramco, a company valued at $2trn, and bringing a cash inflow of $100bn from this partial privatization.

In June 2017, the Saudi crown prince led a coalition of 4 nations – Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – in a boycott of Qatar for its alleged support of terrorism and triggering the Gulf’s worst crisis in years.

FT says the young prince who graduated with a law degree in Riyadh is a workaholic who has made the face of Saudi royalty more approachable and can fire off facts and figures at a machinegun pace.

“The crown prince is said to have gained the trust of his father through his meticulous work ethic, and the prince also embarked on several trips to the US, Russia, Asia and Europe, seeking to promote Riyadh’s position on regional politics and put the kingdom on the radar of the world’s top dealmakers with massive global transactions.”

Read: Is Saudi a divided nation looking for an identity amidst transformation?

Political face

On November 4, 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed unleashed a countrywide anti-graft probe that saw a number of high level ministers, princes and businessmen being detained in a gilded prison at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton.

He hotel didn’t reopen until Feb 11, 2018, after Saudi claimed it had seized some $106bn in cash, assets and properties and released a number of high profile business personalities including Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal.

Reuters reported that the corruption probe was a way for the Saudi crown Prince to “Tighten his grip on power, by purging the kingdom’s political and business elite”.

Read: Is Saudi sending the right signals ahead of Saudi Crown Prince’s UK US trip?

Many Saudis welcomed the move as an assault on the endemic theft of public funds by the powerful.

“U.S. President Donald Trump said those arrested had been ‘milking’ their country for years but some Western officials expressed unease about the possible reaction in Riyadh’s opaque tribal and royal politics”, Reuters added.

According to Reuters, the crown prince has helped lead a diplomatic campaign to isolate Qatar, in a campaign that divided Gulf Arab countries, who Washington regards as essential to its influence in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran, has deepened as the kingdom is standing behind Prince Mohammed who used provocative language to rule out any dialogue with Iran, which he accused to trying to dominate the Muslim world.

State media quoted the prince as describing Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen as “direct military aggression” that could be an act of war.