The youngest defence minister in the world, and the first in line to the throne, 32-year-old Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is also the kingdom’s deputy prime minister.
Mohammed bin Salman, known colloquially as MBS, was born on August 31, 1985. His mother, Princess Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan bin Hathleen, is from the Ajman tribe, whose leader is the princess’ father, Rakan bin Hathleen.
In 2008, Prince Salman married Princess Sarah bint Mashhoor bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and together they had three children.
He received his primary education in Riyadh, the country’s capital, where he was ranked among the kingdom’s top 10 students.
He obtained a law degree from King Saud University, where he graduated second in his class. Throughout his time as a university student, Prince Salman was enrolled in various training programmes.
After graduation, Prince Salman established a number of firms before he became involved in governmental work. He served as secretary general of the Riyadh Competitive Council, special adviser to the chairman of the board for the King Abdulaziz Foundation, and as a member of the board of trustees for the Albir society for development.
As part of his philanthropic work, he also established the MiSK Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works on cultivating learning and leadership in Saudi’s youth, and develops startups in the country through various business incubation programmes.
In 2013, he was awarded the “Personality of the Year” award by Forbes Middle East for his role as chairman of the MiSK Foundation in recognition of his support for Saudi’s youth and their development.
Prince Salman embarked on his political journey when he served as full-time adviser to the council of ministers for two years in 2007.
In 2009, he became special adviser to his father, who was governor of Riyadh at the time, and continued to serve the experts commission of the Saudi cabinet as a part-time consultant until March 2013.
The prince was appointed defence minister on January 23, 2015, after his father’s accession to the throne. In the same year, he was named deputy crown prince.
His most notable move as defence minister was leading Operation Decisive Storm, a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which was launched two months after his appointment. The operation consists of eight Sunni-Muslim Arab countries that are fighting Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The new crown prince is also driving a far more aggressive foreign policy to counter the influence of arch-rival Iran.
Prior to his most recent appointments, Prince Salman spent a number of years as his father’s personal aide. He was previously president of his father’s Royal Court, back when King Salman was crown prince, where he began introducing his own changes.
In addition to his existing roles, Mohammed bin Salman also heads the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, which oversees the kingdom’s economic affairs, ultimately shaping its political and security policies.
In November 2017, four ministers, 11 princes and several high-profile entrepreneurs were detained on orders of MBS in what was presented as an anti-corruption purge. However, the measures targeted many of his direct rivals, thus consolidating the prince’s power over the kingdom.
In April 2016, he introduced Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s vision of the future, which is aimed at making the kingdom the heart of the Arab and Islamic world, an investment powerhouse, and a hub that connects three continents.
The reformative initiative seeks to diversify and privatise the economy, and to make it less reliant on oil. By 2030, the initiative aims to establish an e-government system.
The crown prince has called for more entertainment options in the kingdom for both families and youth. The cabinet passed regulation to lessen the power of the religious police, and an entertainment authority was established in May 2016.
In his attempt to override tradition, he also engaged younger Saudi Muslim scholars who are active on social media and better known among the Saudi youth, as opposed to the kingdom’s council of senior scholars, who set official religious policy and often release religious opinions.