Saudi Arabia: More than a year under new crown prince

Saudi Arabia: More than a year under new crown prince
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Dubai: Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince of Saudi Arabia in June last year, shaking up the ultra-conservative oil power. Here is a rundown of developments:

– Crown prince at 31 –

On June 21, 2017, King Salman ousts his nephew as crown prince and installs his 31-year-old son, Mohammed, as his heir.

Widely known as MBS, Prince Mohammed retains his role as defence minister. The move caps his meteoric rise.

It coincides with a major fallout with Qatar: Riyadh and regional allies sever ties with Doha the same month, accusing it of supporting “terrorists” and being too close to Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran. Qatar denies the charges.

– Royal purge –

In September 2017 authorities round up at least 20 people, including influential clerics and intellectuals, in what is condemned as a crackdown on dissent by the crown prince.

Around 380 royals, ministers and business tycoons are then arrested in November in a dramatic purge led by Prince Mohammed that the government says is a move against corruption.

Many are held for weeks in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Most are released after agreeing significant financial settlements.

– Reforms –

The monarchy ends the world’s only ban on female drivers by announcing in September 2017 that they will be able to take the wheel from June 2018.

The decision is part of a vast modernisation plan for the country inspired by the prince as he looks to bolster foreign investment.

In the same spirit, cinemas are reopened, music concerts organised with mixed-gender audiences permitted, and women allowed into sports stadiums.

But the enthusiasm generated by the announcements of reforms is tarnished by repression of female activists who long opposed the driving ban.

Prince Mohammed is also the architect of a wide-ranging plan for social and economic change, called Vision 2030, that is approved before his appointment as crown prince.

– Crisis in Lebanon –

In November 2017 Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announces in a televised address from Riyadh that he is resigning, citing Iran’s “grip” on his country.

Saudi Arabia is accused of forcing his hand to make a stand against the influence of Iran and its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Hariri, supported by Saudi Arabia for years, spends two weeks in Riyadh amid speculation he cannot leave, until France intervenes and he withdraws his resignation.

– Yemen war –

Riyadh entered the Yemeni conflict in 2015 at the head of an Arab military coalition supporting the government against the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.

The crown prince in November 2017 accuses Iran of “direct military aggression” by supplying ballistic missiles to rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

Days before, Saudi forces intercepted a ballistic missile near Riyadh international airport that was fired by the rebels.

– Nuclear Iran –

Prince Mohammed says in March 2018 that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Riyadh will do so too.

In an interview with CBS television, he also likens Iran’s supreme leader to Hitler, saying he “wants to create his own project in the Middle East”.

Riyadh holds deep reservations over the 2015 accord aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and hails President Donald Trump’s announcement in May 2018 that the United States is withdrawing from the deal.

– Charm offensive –

In March 2018 the prince embarks on his first foreign tour as heir, visiting Egypt and Britain — where he lunches with Queen Elizabeth II.

Prince Mohammed then spends two weeks in the United States, meeting Trump and other political and industry leaders. He also goes to France and Spain.

– Missing journalist –

The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who goes missing after entering the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on October 2, unleashes an international crisis.

Turkish officials say they believe Khashoggi, who has been critical of Prince Mohammed, was killed inside the consulate by a hit squad.

Saudi Arabia denies the claims, calling them “baseless”, but the controversy deals a massive blow to the prince’s charm offensive and reform drive at home.