The Saudis are building the futuristic city of Neom in the desert; this idea also belongs to the crown prince. Photo: neom.com
At the BRICS summit in South Africa it was decided to expand the organization with another six participants. Among them is Saudi Arabia, a desert monarchy bathed in petrodollars, which, however, of late has made headlines in the world media not only for its hydrocarbons trade, but also for the construction of the futuristic city of Neom, the purchase of the first – stars in local football clubs and a significant liberalization of the previously existing Sharia rules here. Behind the modernization of this state is one person: the kingdom is de facto led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 37, who, despite being very young by the standards of the political elite, is already considered one of the most influential people in the world
Mohammed bin Salman is used to being seen in the national dress of the Saudis: a white floor-length shirt (gandura) and a red checkered scarf (gutra), but sometimes he chooses a European style.
Photo: SOCIAL NETWORKS
ARRESTED 350 BRIBE
Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS as he is known in the Western press, began his political career in 2009 as an adviser to his father, the current King Salman. In 2015, MBS headed the anti-corruption committee. Immediately after his appointment, the heir led an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign: more than 350 people, including 11 princes, were arrested on charges of abuse. This action was seen as a cleansing of political competitors, though many said that such a daring attack on previously untouchable members of the elite was a necessary and backward step for the well-being of the kingdom.
One way or another, from that moment on, MBS firmly established himself as the number one politician in the country, albeit limited by the regalia and authority of the king-father. The prime ministerial job, won last year, finally cemented Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Photo: Dmitry POLUKHIN
The crown prince has brought big changes to a rather conservative Saudi Arabia. Over the years of his political career, he has gained fame as something of a hipster who allows himself to appear in public in shorts, plays video games and visits Silicon Valley billionaires. But both political comrades-in-arms and opponents note the Crown Prince’s deep and prudent mind, energy and ability to work. Because of the amount of responsibilities he took on, MBS was even nicknamed “Mr. Everything.”
First of all, MBS advocates moving away from the religious dogmatism of the Wahhabis, which has reigned in the kingdom for many years. He advocates a more moderate and secular vector of Islam, which he considers closer to the origins of the teachings. In recent years, the daily life of the kingdom has changed: shopping centers, cinemas and even comedy clubs are opening in the country, the situation of women has greatly improved: for example, they were allowed to drive cars and share Participation. of female labor in the economy has tripled, including the appointment of a princess as US ambassador in Rome. Against the background of a weakening of order in the country, the local moral police, which strictly monitored compliance with Sharia rules, is gradually losing its influence and presence in public places. Using soft power tools, Saudi Arabia is building a futuristic city of Neom that should attract millions of tourists, investing in green energy, seawater desalination technology and esports, and bringing in world-class soccer stars like Cristiano. Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to the country. country.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nasr has brought the kingdom to the attention of sports fans around the world. Photo: Ahmed Yosri/REUTERS
MIDDLE EAST LEADER
In foreign policy, MBS in recent years has tried to play the role of peacemaker in the struggle for the status of regional leader in the Middle East. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has taken a number of important steps towards its former opponents. Thus, this year, with the help of China, Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic relations with Iran, which were severed in 2016 after the attack on the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran. In May of the same year, thanks to the efforts of the Crown Prince, Syria returned to the format of the League of Arab States, from which it had been excluded in 2011. Judging by the leaks in the press, the Saudis are even ready to recognize Israel.
At the same time, the crown prince is not a fan of the West; unlike many other descendants of wealthy Middle Eastern families, he even received his education in his homeland. Now Riyadh is actively distancing itself from the United States and strengthening cooperation with China and Russia. The other day it became known about the introduction of the study of Chinese in the schools and universities of the kingdom. According to the former French ambassador in Riyadh, Bertrand Besanceno, the Saudis are realistic and understand that they remain dependent on the Americans, but they believe that the United States has weakened.
Having finally matured into the format of regional alliances and bilateral relations, the crown prince became an independent player at the top levels. Proof of this is the summit organized by MBS in Jeddah to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.
But this is not the limit of the crown prince’s ambitions. Mohammed bin Salman himself believes that the Middle East will become a new center of power instead of an aging Europe if the major countries in the region manage to successfully go through the transformation. Given the political weight and young age of a politician, MBS considers itself the architect of these changes and is moving rapidly towards that goal.
“If we succeed, many countries will follow us and in 30 years there will be an Arab renaissance. This is Saudi Arabia’s war, this is my war, which I personally accept and I will not die in it until the Middle East becomes a world leader,” the crown prince said in 2018 at an investment forum in Riyadh.