By Ty Joplin
There has been a whirlwind of news coming out of Saudi the last few weeks. From allowing women to drive, granting a robot citizenship, threatening war with Iran, arresting hundreds of their own elite to the Lebanese Prime Minister resigning on Saudi-state TV, it has been hard to keep track of the sheer pace of developments.
These events have caused reverberations throughout the entire region, and collectively paint the picture that something big is happening in the Middle East--a kind of geopolitical, tectonic re-positioning.
At their core though, many of these stories are the result of one man and his masterplan for Saudi Arabia.
That man, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), has slowly accrued enough power to begin pushing his own vision of Saudi onto the world and his people.
Bin Salman is a particularly interesting figure to emerge from this chaos, as he has up-ended many traditional power hierarchies and pecking orders of Saudi, while concentrating authoritarian power in his name--a central core of the Saud family’s rule.
In other words, he is rewriting the Saudi political playbook while preserving its most important feature.
He didn't just start writing his playbook with these events, the young Prince has been strategically preparing himself for this moment throughout recent years.
March 2015 -- Bin Salman Leads Saudi into Open-Ended War in Yemen
After his appointment as Saudi’s Defense Minister, MBS pushes for a massive intervention into Yemen
The intervention was meant to prevent the country from being an Al Qaeda safehaven, and to push back against Iranian influence in the region
The war has led to one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world, leaving almost 20 million people, or about 70% of Yemen’s population, in need of humanitarian assistance and/or protection
April 13, 2016 -- MBS Reigns in Saudi’s Infamous ‘Religious Police’
Saudi’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police. Official page
The Saudi Mutaween, or religious police, were among the most feared authorities in the religious country-- one that governs with an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam called Wahhabi Salafism
Bin Salman helped to limit their powers, ordering them not to “arrest people, restrain them, chase them, request their documents, confirm their identities, or follow them.”
The move was the first among many that signalled the country was slowly moving toward a more moderate enforcement and practice of Islamic Law
April 25, 2016 -- Plan to Revolutionize/Modernize Saudi Announced by MBS
MBS announced to the world Saudi Vision 2030, which promises to wean Saudi off its reliance on oil and open the historically closed-off society to the world
The vision plans to radically alter Saudi citizens’ relation to the state as increasing privatization will likely downsize their oil-funded welfare state
Saudi Vision 2030 will likely shape MBS’ image as the young, moderate reformer of the Kingdom--personalizing Saudi’s government around his personality
June 21, 2017 -- Bin Salman Ousts Muhammad bin Nayef to Become Crown Prince
Bin Nayef was pressured for hours on June 20 to give up his post as Crown Prince, then confined to his palace
The next day, the King announced his son, bin Salman, would become heir to the throne
The move officially put MBS as arguably the most powerful political figure in the Kingdom, since King Salman is seen as a passive ruler
Nov. 5, 2017 -- MBS Announces Saudi-Wide Purge
Al-Waleed bin Talal speaking on May 11, 2017, before his arrest, AFP/File
MBS announced an anti-corruption committee had been formed, then began mass arresting princes and other members of Saudi’s elite that could challenge bin Salman’s power or wide agenda for Saudi
One prince was reportedly killed in the purge as he tried to escape Saudi via helicopter, and Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world, was swept up in the purge
The ongoing purge has skipped any meaningful due process and is the main vehicle through which bin Salman has assured his position as Saudi’s de facto leader for the foreseeable future
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