Inside the rapid rise and unprecedented power grab of Saudi Arabia’s millennial crown prince

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
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REUTERS/Pavel Golovkin/Pool

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is rapidly becoming the driving force behind his Middle East kingdom and one of the most powerful people in the world.

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.

Meet the powerful prince who could reshape the Middle East:


Not much is known about Crown Prince Mohammed’s early life. He is the eldest son of King Salman’s third wife, and reportedly spent much of his time shadowing his father.


A 2015 New York Times article details how unexpected his rise has been, noting that his three older half-brothers “all have distinguished résumés and were once considered contenders for top government roles.”

Source: The New York Times


Crown Prince Mohammed holds a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University in Riyadh and served in various advisor roles for his father.

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REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Crown Prince Mohammed likes water sports, such as water skiing, as well as iPhones and other Apple products, according to the New York Times profile. The article also notes that Japan is his favorite country and he visited there on his honeymoon.

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Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

Despite his supposedly lacking background, Crown Prince Mohammed reportedly was angling for a future in government. “It was obvious to me that he was planning his future — he was always very concerned about his image,” a family associate told The New York Times, noting that Prince Mohammed did not smoke, drink alcohol, or stay out late.


That doesn’t mean he’s not impulsive, though. Crown Prince Mohammed reportedly bought a yacht, the Serene, for approximately 500 million euros after spotting it while vacationing in the south of France. The former owner, Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler, moved off the yacht that day.

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Phil Walter/Getty Images

Crown Prince Mohammed first made international headlines in January 2015, when he took over for King Salman as defense minister when his father ascended to the throne following the death of King Abdullah.


He was 29 years old when he took on the job. Now 32, Crown Prince Mohammed remains the world’s youngest defense minister.

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Muhammad Hamed – Pool /Getty Images

As defense minister, he has become the leading backer of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war with Houthi rebels in Yemen.

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REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Crown Prince Mohammed has also reportedly been a driving force behind the Gulf countries’ efforts to isolate Qatar.

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Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty Images

Although it’s still unclear, there are reports that Crown Prince Mohammed had a large part to play in Saudi-linked Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s resignation, submitted while he was in Saudi Arabia this weekend.


Each of these moves can be viewed as part of a broader campaign to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran.


Along with his role as defense minister, Crown Prince Mohammed was also given control of Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil company.

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Saudi Aramco/Handout via REUTERS

In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammed announced a long-term economic plan, called Vision 2030, which aims to remove Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil.

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REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

More recently, in October, he announced a $500 billion mega-city that will be powered completely by renewable energy, called NEOM.

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Knowledge Economic City Company

Crown Prince Mohammed has made headlines recently for wading into Saudi Arabia’s culture wars, calling for a return to “a more moderate Islam.”

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REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

He was also seen to be behind the landmark decision earlier this year to allow Saudi women to drive.

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REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

As he’s gained influence, Crown Prince Mohammed has started to edge out some major Saudi power players.

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REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was crown prince and interior minister until June 2017, when Prince Mohammed took over.

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REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Additionally, one of the biggest names implicated in the recent anti-corruption arrests was Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the head of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard.


With these two men out of the picture, Crown Prince Mohammed effectively controls the three pillars of Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus — the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the National Guard — in an unprecedented consolidation of power.

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REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Crown Prince Mohammed started developing ties to the US early on. King Salman sent Crown Prince Mohammed as one of two delegates to the US when the monarch pulled out of a 2015 Gulf summit.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Crown Prince Mohammed “struck us as extremely knowledgeable, very smart,” former President Barack Obama told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network. “I think wise beyond his years.”

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Olivier Douliery – Pool/Getty Images

He has struck up a strong relationship with the new administration, meeting with President Donald Trump early in his presidency.

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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

As defense minister, Crown Prince Mohammed has also met several times with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

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REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

He has also reportedly become friendly with another powerful millennial, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When his father dies, Crown Prince Mohammed will become something Saudi Arabia has never seen — a young ruler set to stay in power for decades.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images