Since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman became the absolute power, things are changing for better in Middle East. He is swiftly becoming the driving force behind his Middle East kingdom and one of the most powerful people in the world. In late 2015, Prince Mohammad attended a meeting between King Salman and U.S. President Barack Obama, where the prince broke protocol to deliver a prologue criticising U.S. foreign policy. When Prince Bin Salman announced an anti-terrorist military alliance of Islamic countries in December 2015, some of the countries involved, said they had not been consulted. But that made no difference to his stand. The Islamic State uses anger and grievance against Western intervention as a powerful recruiting tool. Islamism is a response to the failure of Arab leaders to deliver meaningful outcomes to their people.
Lacking opportunities for political participation, Arab citizens turned to mosques as public spaces for political discussion. As a result religion became the language of politics and of political change. Post-colonialism also failed the Arab middle class, as the ruling elite continued to hold power and wealth. Rapid economic growth in the emerging Gulf States increased the influence of conservative Muslim governments. At the same time, the expansion of the oil-based Gulf economy brought about uneven economic development, the response to which was growing support for Islamism as a mode of expression for internal grievances. Looking at many factors Prince Mohammed showed willingness to address these issues by discouraging the extremists.
Mohammad has travelled extensively around the world, meeting with politicians, business leaders and celebrities. In June 2016, he travelled to Silicon Valley and met key people in the US high tech industry, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He is one who is gone beyond boundaries to establish communication with world powers. When he was Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was called as a political gambler who is destabilising the Arab world through proxy wars in Yemen and Syria.
During the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, thousands of civilians were reportedly killed in a major bombing campaign, prompting accusations of war crimes in the intervention. So far, the war has already cost the kingdom tens of billions of dollars and destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure but failed to dislodge the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies from the Yemeni capital.
The 32-year-old royal has influenced Saudi Arabia’s military, foreign policy, economy, and even day-to-day religious and cultural life. Crown Prince Mohammed – or MbS, as he’s widely known – is also widely seen to be the muscle behind Saudi Arabia’s recent anti-corruption purge. The heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed is consolidating power in a way Saudi Arabia hasn’t seen in decades. Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince hosted some of the world’s leading investors at the palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Days later, he upended the country’s historical power structure by turning the property into a luxury prison for dozens of the kingdom’s most prominent princess and businessmen.
The detentions on grounds of corruption — seen by some as a power grab by 32-year-old Crown Prince have ended a system by which kings maintained stability in the world’s largest oil supplier by parcelling out powers to different branches of the family. The jettisoning of limitations on the king’s power may free his successor to enact much-needed social and economic changes, but it also creates fertile ground for discord and leaves Saudi Arabia’s ruler without a system of constraints.
Authorities haven’t corroborated the corruption allegations, though graft is pervasive in the kingdom and some applauded the crackdown. At least $100 billion had been misused “through systemic corruption and embezzlement” over several decades. The purge, and the kingdom’s deepening feud with Iran, spurred a selloff of almost $18 billion across Gulf stock markets. The decline cut the combined market capitalization of bourses in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to $900 billion, the lowest level in a year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Some investors saw the crackdown as presenting an opportunity.
The fallen mighty include billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has stakes in Citigroup and Twitter; Mohammed Al Amoudi, who controls investments across Africa, Europe and Saudi Arabia; and Jeddah-based businessman Saleh Kamel. Authorities swiftly followed up the arrests by freezing the bank accounts of dozens of detainees. Prince Mohammed had already taken control of the Defence Ministry, the central bank and oil giant Aramco, which bankrolls the country. The Prince has planned to shakeup the economy heavily on his ability to break the power of the clergy, whose influence was enshrined in a 1774 pact adopting the austere Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. He’s already weakened the religious police, announced plans to lift a ban on female drivers in June next year and at the Ritz last month, openly called for a more moderate form of Islam.
Saudi Arabia went through a bout of terrorism more than a decade ago when militants thought the Al Saud had deviated from Islam by allowing the presence of U.S. troops on the Arabian Peninsula. Now, the prince is betting that support from a younger generation of Saudis hungry for government accountability and more social freedoms will offset potential threats from the enemies he is accumulating with each decision that strengthens his hands. The sweeping away of the old Saudi order that ran the kingdom is a bold step with many unknowns.
The Middle East is a complex mix of culture, religion, politics and history. To continue to engage with the Arab world on the basis of flawed assumptions that neatly divide it into the camp of moderate Islam and the camp of extreme Islam feeds into an equally flawed analysis of the conflict as a clash of civilisations. Let’s hope Prince Mohammad Bin Salman becomes good administrator and less of a dictator.
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