Where is Saudi Arabia's media savvy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman?

Jun 09, 2018, 13:36 IST | Heli shukla

Saudi Arabia's media savvy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not been seen out and about since mid-April after a suspected coup attempt, leaving observers and rivals speculating whether he's dead or alive

Where is Saudi Arabia's media savvy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman?
Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pic/AFP

Who is Mohammed Bin Salman?
Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (also known as MbS), 32, is the son of Saudi Arabia's current ruler, King Salman. He was named the Crown Prince in 2017 and is the heir apparent to his father's throne. In addition to his royal title, he is also involved in the country's administrative affairs and currently serves as the First Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and Minister of Defence.

Who's crying murder?
Mostly observers and rivals of the middle eastern kingdom. The rumours began circulating after April 21, when gunshots were heard at the royal palace. Saudi authorities maintained that they'd downed a recreational, unauthorised toy drone flying near the palace. In the middle of all this, Twitter was afire with theories. One of them was by London-based Saudi human rights activist Ghanem al-Masarir, who claimed King Salman was moved to the King Khalid Military City in northeastern Saudi Arabia. However, a Reuters report quoted an official saying that King Salman was "at his farm in Diriya [a part of the capital Riyadh]." According to Newsweek, some Twitter accounts supporting Qatar had suggested a coup attempt was unfolding and media agencies in Iran speculated MbS may have been killed, with an Iranian newspaper saying "two bullets" had hit him. This came about because there were no reports on MbS's whereabouts at the time of the incident. This was remarkably unusual for the prince, who is otherwise seen out and about all the time.

How's the kingdom putting a lid on the rumours?
To quash the rumours, Saudi Arabia released footage to CNN of MbS chairing a meeting of the Council of Economic Affairs and Development on May 29, but it was unable to identify when the video was shot. The CNN report about the video also said that the Saudi state TV has been releasing pictures and videos of MbS carrying out official duties, albeit sans any time stamps. According to Newsweek, some Twitter accounts supporting Qatar had suggested a coup attempt was unfolding and media agencies in Iran speculated he may have been killed, with a newspaper saying "two bullets" had hit him. This came about because there were no reports on his whereabouts at the time.

Why is the prince controversial?
Economic reform: For starters, MbS has proposed and led one of the most ambitious economic reform programs Saudi Arabia has ever seen, under the name Vision 2030, to privatise and diversify the country.

From conservative to moderate: MbS wants his country, notorious for being one of the most conservative regimes in the world, to move toward being more modern. According to him, Saudi Arabia is "returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world." Among the most notable reforms he has brought in that sector are: giving women more rights – to drive, open their own business and hold office, and removing a 35-year ban on cinema halls.

Crackdown on corruption: November 4, 2017 brought about a sweeping arrest of over 40 Saudi princes and government officials over charges of corruption and money laundering. In what became popularly known as the "purge," the detained accused were holed in the five-star Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh. This move was seen as MbS's attempt to grab power. The detainees were released three months later, after most of them agreed to multi-million dollar settlements.

Military intervention: The nation's alleged proxy war in Yemen has drawn much flak. MbS, who was the defence minister when the tussle began, has been instrumental in initiating and continuing the intervention.

Human rights abuses: Saudi Arabia is notorious for its abusive stance on human rights. The problem seems to have only gotten worse under MbS, with the persecution of activists only rising after he came to power, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

USD 1.4tn
Estimated net worth of the Saudi royal family, the House of Saud, to which MbS belongs

USD 3bn
Estimated net worth of Mohammed bin Salman

USD 100bn
Amount of illicit assets seized in the three-month corruption purge

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