ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD
Members Only
lock close icon

Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman Named Prime Minister: Why Is It Significant?

The move will widely shield MBS from a damaging lawsuit for his role in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Published
World
5 min read
story-hero-img
i
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large
Hindi Female

King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, 27 September, named his son Mohammed bin Salman, better known by his acronym MBS, the prime minister of the country.

With MBS’ appointment as the prime minister, a role typically held by the king, the 86-year-old monarch furthers a steady transfer of power in Saudi Arabia. However, the development is not likely to change the current status quo in the country.

The kingdom announced that the monarch was making an exception to Saudi law and naming his son prime minister, ceding one of the two titles –the king and the prime minister – he held. 

While the royal decree did not state the rationale behind MBS’ appointment, state-run news agency SPA said that King Salman – who remains the head of state – will still continue to chair the cabinet meeting he attends. 

Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman Named Prime Minister: Why Is It Significant?

  1. 1. Who Is Crown Prince MBS?

    Mohammed bin Salman, who was serving as the deputy prime minister and defence minister of the country, first rose to power from relative anonymity, when his father King Salman acceded to the throne in 2015, and made him head of various importance government portfolios, like economy, defence, and oil. 

    In 2017, King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef and made MBS the crown prince, bringing him closer to the throne. 

    Since he first appeared on the scene, MBS has been seen as one of the most influential figures in the country, and since becoming the crown prince, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and the heir to the throne. 

    Expand
  2. 2. What Is the Significance of the ‘Promotion’?

    • Indicates an ongoing steady transfer of power in the kingdom.

    • MBS' new post cements his path towards the top office, currently occupied by King Salman.

    • Comes when the kingdom is facing high tensions with Iran and Qatar, and is also engaged in a war in Yemen, owed to MBS' bombing campaign.

    • MBS has also presented himself as a social reformer, in an attempt to rebrand Saudi’s conservative socio-religious image, and aims for "moderate Islam" in the kingdom.

    • The promotion gives MBS a legitimacy as the de facto ruler and to take decisions on the king's behalf.

    • The crown prince's Vision 2030 plan, which tries to reduce dependence on oil and diversify the Saudi economy, will gain more traction under MBS.

    • The significance of MBS' promotion is not limited to just the kingdom but is likely to be felt across the world, including the US. Experts believe that the timing of MBS’ promotion is very possibly connected to a looming US court-ordered deadline next week, for his alleged role in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

    Let us focus on two areas where Mohammed bin Salman's promotion will have most impact.

    Expand
  3. 3. Killing of Jamal Khashoggi: The Looming Case    

    Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, while his fiancé Hatice waited outside. He was at the consulate seeking documents for his upcoming nuptials. Subsequently, a hit team from Saudi Arabia brutally dismembered his body, which was never found.

    The move will widely shield MBS from a damaging lawsuit for his role in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

    Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi 

    (Photo: File Image)

    While MBS denied any involvement, an investigation by Turkish authorities revealed an audiotape of the killing, which was played for the US' Central Investigation Agency (CIA). The CIA concluded that MBS was culpable for Khashoggi’s death and most likely ordered the journalist’s killing.  

    Several commentators have questioned the timing of MBS’ ‘promotion’ and claimed that the decision will likely assuage any concerns surrounding the crown prince's possible arrest or other legal challenges while travelling abroad.

    The Joe Biden administration was asked to weigh in by a US judge, on whether the crown prince ought to be protected by sovereign immunity in a case brought by Khashoggi’s finance, Hatice Cengiz. Such protection is typically only granted to world leaders, like prime ministers or a king. 

    However, the case against MBS was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, which has been previously used to sue other foreign leaders.

    Expand
  4. 4. Legitimacy as De Facto Ruler 

    MBS has also presented himself as a social and economic reformer, in an attempt to rebrand Saudi’s conservative socio-religious image and diversify the oil-rich economy of the country.

    In 2016, MBS unveiled his Vision 2030 plan to reduce dependence on oil, diversify the Saudi economy, and to develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

    Under the plan, the kingdom allowed citizens to partake in some recreational activities and even certain vices, legalising cinemas and concerts, and notably, inviting hip-hop artists to perform. 

    In the same year, he curbed the religious police’s powers, and subsequently granted Saudi women more rights, such as allowing the, to drive, to attend football games at stadiums, to travel freely and also to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca without the presence of a male guardian. 

    His reforms, while welcomed by the West, although with skepticism, were not looked favourably by many in the kingdom, especially by the conservative members of the royal family. In 2017, MBS rounded up hundreds of members of his very own relatives and other wealthy Saudis, imprisoning them in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton on informal charges of corruption. Among those held was Prince Khaled bin Talal, a cousin of MBS, a businessman and noted religious conservative who reportedly was against some of the reforms, according to a Washington Post report.

    Expand

Who Is Crown Prince MBS?

Mohammed bin Salman, who was serving as the deputy prime minister and defence minister of the country, first rose to power from relative anonymity, when his father King Salman acceded to the throne in 2015, and made him head of various importance government portfolios, like economy, defence, and oil. 

In 2017, King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef and made MBS the crown prince, bringing him closer to the throne. 

Since he first appeared on the scene, MBS has been seen as one of the most influential figures in the country, and since becoming the crown prince, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and the heir to the throne. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Is the Significance of the ‘Promotion’?

  • Indicates an ongoing steady transfer of power in the kingdom.

  • MBS' new post cements his path towards the top office, currently occupied by King Salman.

  • Comes when the kingdom is facing high tensions with Iran and Qatar, and is also engaged in a war in Yemen, owed to MBS' bombing campaign.

  • MBS has also presented himself as a social reformer, in an attempt to rebrand Saudi’s conservative socio-religious image, and aims for "moderate Islam" in the kingdom.

  • The promotion gives MBS a legitimacy as the de facto ruler and to take decisions on the king's behalf.

  • The crown prince's Vision 2030 plan, which tries to reduce dependence on oil and diversify the Saudi economy, will gain more traction under MBS.

  • The significance of MBS' promotion is not limited to just the kingdom but is likely to be felt across the world, including the US. Experts believe that the timing of MBS’ promotion is very possibly connected to a looming US court-ordered deadline next week, for his alleged role in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Let us focus on two areas where Mohammed bin Salman's promotion will have most impact.

0

Killing of Jamal Khashoggi: The Looming Case    

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, while his fiancé Hatice waited outside. He was at the consulate seeking documents for his upcoming nuptials. Subsequently, a hit team from Saudi Arabia brutally dismembered his body, which was never found.

The move will widely shield MBS from a damaging lawsuit for his role in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi 

(Photo: File Image)

While MBS denied any involvement, an investigation by Turkish authorities revealed an audiotape of the killing, which was played for the US' Central Investigation Agency (CIA). The CIA concluded that MBS was culpable for Khashoggi’s death and most likely ordered the journalist’s killing.  

Several commentators have questioned the timing of MBS’ ‘promotion’ and claimed that the decision will likely assuage any concerns surrounding the crown prince's possible arrest or other legal challenges while travelling abroad.

The Joe Biden administration was asked to weigh in by a US judge, on whether the crown prince ought to be protected by sovereign immunity in a case brought by Khashoggi’s finance, Hatice Cengiz. Such protection is typically only granted to world leaders, like prime ministers or a king. 

However, the case against MBS was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, which has been previously used to sue other foreign leaders.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

After the Biden administration sought a delay in filing their response, which was meant to be in August, a district court judge extended the deadline to 3 October. The judge has called on the administration to state if it believed that MBS ought to be granted immunity under rules that protect a country’s head of state. 

The Guardian also quoted Abdullah Alaoudh, the Gulf director at Dawn, a pro-democracy group based in Washington, who is a party to the Khashoggi lawsuit.

"It seems like [Prince Mohammed] has been advised to take this step before the response of the Biden administration was due on 3 October.”
Abdullah Alaoudh

Subsequent to the Khashoggi incident, MBS hid from public view, hoping that the Saudi populous will forget the horrific murder. However, if growing criticism and dissent in the kingdom are any measure, the Khashoggi murder remains fresh in the mind of Saudi citizens.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Legitimacy as De Facto Ruler 

MBS has also presented himself as a social and economic reformer, in an attempt to rebrand Saudi’s conservative socio-religious image and diversify the oil-rich economy of the country.

In 2016, MBS unveiled his Vision 2030 plan to reduce dependence on oil, diversify the Saudi economy, and to develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

Under the plan, the kingdom allowed citizens to partake in some recreational activities and even certain vices, legalising cinemas and concerts, and notably, inviting hip-hop artists to perform. 

In the same year, he curbed the religious police’s powers, and subsequently granted Saudi women more rights, such as allowing the, to drive, to attend football games at stadiums, to travel freely and also to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca without the presence of a male guardian. 

His reforms, while welcomed by the West, although with skepticism, were not looked favourably by many in the kingdom, especially by the conservative members of the royal family. In 2017, MBS rounded up hundreds of members of his very own relatives and other wealthy Saudis, imprisoning them in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton on informal charges of corruption. Among those held was Prince Khaled bin Talal, a cousin of MBS, a businessman and noted religious conservative who reportedly was against some of the reforms, according to a Washington Post report.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The move to arrest and jail powerful members of the royal family was seen as pre-empting strike to nip in the bud any attempt to question MBS' authority and his legitimacy as the king's heir. It also established him as an authoritarian who would go as far as to jail his own kin. Since then, MBS has remain unchallenged, becoming the de facto ruler of the country, taking decisions on the king's behalf and meeting the heads of state as the king's representative as King Salman reduces his role in the kingdom's affairs.

With his appointment as the prime minister, Mohammed bin Salman will have greater control and legitimacy to pursue his goals.

(With inputs from The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Atlantic)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from news and world

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More
×
×