Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has had a controversial rule as crown prince in Saudi Arabia, particularly after the assassination of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
He was once viewed as a progressive, yet arrests and executions of those who disagree with him spiked under his rule, Al Jazeera reported. He came into power after then-crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef was pressured into relinquishing his right to the throne, according to The New York Times. He became a pariah after Khashoggi’s death, but President Donald Trump’s repeated backing of the kingdom has helped him to regain a rapport on the world stage, according to The Washington Post.
The 34-year-old heir to Saudi Arabia’s throne often goes by his initials, MBS. He will be king after the death of his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. King Salman is 83. Bin Salman is married to his royal cousin, Princess Sarah bint Mashhoor bin Abdulaziz. They have four children.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Prince Mohammed bin Salman Said the Killing of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi Happened Under His Watch
Mohammed bin Salman said he gets “all the responsibility” for the death of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, telling PBS in a recent interview that it happened under his watch. The PBS documentary will air Tuesday, October 1, 2019, the day before the one-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death.
“It happened under my watch,” the crown prince told PBS Frontline journalist Martin Smith. “I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch.”
He further deflected responsibility for planning the killing, saying he did not have prior knowledge and ministers had the authority to take one of his planes from Saudi Arabia to Turkey.
NPR reported in June a United Nations special investigator found bin Salman should be investigated based on “credible evidence” he was involved, along with others.
The report, which you can read here, said the execution had to involve significant government coordination.
“Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources and finances,” it says. “Saudi high-level officials planned, oversaw and/or endorsed the mission.”
Khashoggi was last seen walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Once inside, he was brutally killed and dismembered by Saudi state agents, according to a United Nations report. His remains have never been found.
2. Khashoggi’s Killing Turned Mohammed Bin Salman Into a Pariah & Trump Helped Him Rebuild His Reputation
The grisly death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi turned Prince Mohammed bin Salman into a pariah, and President Donald Trump helped bin Salman regain his position on the world stage, The Washington Post reported. He has repeatedly backed Bin Salman’s efforts, helping him slowly regain a solid reputation. NBC compiled a list of Trump’s Top 11 favors to Saudi Arabia. Bin Salman’s main picture on his profile on the House of Saud’s royal family website shows the crown prince speaking with Trump.
Bin Salman was once viewed as a progressive. In 2018, under his rule, women were allowed to drive. But he also allowed the arrest of many women’s rights and humans activists, according to Al Jazeera.
“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement in May 2018. “The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.”
At the same time, executions under his rule steeply increased. During his first eight months in power, 133 people were executed, an average of 16 per month, Al Jazeera reported.
Meanwhile, Trump has not shied away from calling Saudi Arabia an important ally.
“I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them,’ ” Trump told NBC News in July regarding Saudi Arabia. “And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”
Trump condemns the death of Khashoggi, but portrays it as an unsolved crime.
Trump issued a statement in November 2018, titled “Standing with Saudi Arabia,” regarding Khashoggi’s death.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said. “That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Journalists have been barred from the trial of 11 men accused in Khashoggi’s death. The trial began in January.
3. Bin Salman Was Named Crown Prince After a Plotted Ousting of Mohammed bin Nayef
Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud was not heir to the thrown until a coup in 2017, The New York Times reported. After his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, took the throne in 2015, he gave Mohammad bin Salman roles of tremendous power. He named him deputy crown prince, putting him second in line to the throne, and defense minister, putting him in charge of a powerful economic council, and giving him oversight of the state oil monopoly, Saudi Aramco. The positions put bin Salman at odds with Mohammed bin Nayef, who was named the crown prince.
In June 2017, he was summoned to a palace in Mecca, held against his will and pressured overnight to give up his claim to the throne, the New York Times reported. Saudi Arabians awoke the next day to learn they had a new crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud. Bin Nayef was confined to his palace.
The ouster was planned, United States officials and members of the Royal Family told the newspaper. Senior princes and security officials were called to the Safa Palace in Mecca, summoned by King Salman on June 20, 2017, toward the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. Before midnight, bin Nayef was told the king wanted to meet with him. He was taken into another room where his phones were taken and he was pressured to give up his titles of crown prince and interior minister. He initially refused, but his resolve weakened throughout the night. An assassination attempt on bin Nayef by a suicide bomber in 2009 left him with life-altering injuries, and he was also a diabetic. He eventually gave up his claim, the newspaper reported.
Some said his assassination attempt left him with health problems making him unfit for the throne and a drug addiction, The New York Times reported.
4. Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Future King, Controls Part of his Family’s $1.4 Trillion Wealth & Is Known for Lavish Spending
Mohammed bin Salman controls part of his family’s $1.4 trillion and is known for his lavish spending. The family has 15,000 members and generated its wealth over decades of oil expansion. The wealth is held mainly by 2,000 members of the 15,000 family members, according to CNBC. Following the death of Jamal Khashoggi, he hid out on a $500 million yacht, saying he feared for his safety. He bought the yacht from a Russian billionaire. It includes two helipads, an indoor climbing wall, a fully equipped spa, and three swimming pools, according to Business Insider.
In 2015, bin Salman bought “the world’s most expensive home,” the Chateau Louis XIV, for $301 million. Fortune reported at the time it was sold to “an anonymous Middle Easter buyer.” In 2017, the New York Times tracked the paper trail to bin Salman. The Chauteau sits on 56-acres of land, combining 17th Century “haute couture” design with high-tech features indistinguishable from the decor, according to the designer Cogemad’s website. The features include a hedged labyrinth, a gold-leafed fountain, an aquarium, a movie theater and a wine cellar, according to Fortune.
Another mystery sale, a record-breaking purchase of a Leonardo da Vinci painting, was also tracked to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. He paid $450.3 million for “Salvator Mundi,” a da Vinci portrait of Jesus Christ, at an auction in November 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported. The information came from U.S. Intelligence reports. U.S. officials are closely tracking the prince’s activities, the newspapers reported.
5. Mohammed bin Salman has One Wife, a Law Degree & Four Children
Mohammed bin Salman was born in 1985 to King Salman and his third spouse, Fahda bint Falah. He is a direct descendant of the influential Sudairi tribe. He holds a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University, according to the Royal Family website. His full name is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
“Prince Mohammed was born to King Salman and Fahda bint Falah, the King’s third spouse, in 1985. The Prince is a direct descendant of the Sudairi tribe which heavily influences and shapes the current political landscape of the Kingdom. The Prince graduated with a bachelor degree in law from King Saud University,” the website says.
In 2008, bin Salman married his cousin, Princess Sarah bint Mashhoor bin Abdulaziz, according to Fox News. He has one wife. The couple has two sons and two daughters: Prince Salman, Prince Mashhour, Princess Fahda and Princess Nora.