Pres­ident Donald Trump & Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman/ Wiki­media commons

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman is trav­elling around the United States for the first time since he came into power last June when his eighty-two-year-old father King Salman named him crown prince.

The prince’s trip con­sists of meeting with high-profile Amer­icans such as Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Tim Cook, and Pres­ident Donald Trump. His goal as he tours the states is to recreate Saudi Arabia’s profile in the American mind. For decades, the Saudi Kingdom has been the home of ultra-con­ser­v­ative Islam and oil. Now the crown prince wants to show that the kingdom is changing and pro­gressing out of its archaic ways.

Prince Salman’s journey to power began in 2013 when he was appointed head of the Crown Prince’s court, a position his father held at the time. When his father took the throne in January 2015, he made MBS the defense min­ister and named his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef crown prince. In April 2015, MBS gained more power and came closer to the throne when King Salman appointed him deputy crown prince, second deputy prime min­ister, and pres­ident of the Council of Eco­nomic and Devel­opment Affairs. Finally, in June 2017, King Salman pushed out Mohammed bin Nayef and made MBS the crown prince.

Sud­denly, MBS became the most pow­erful man in Saudi Arabia. When he was named crown prince, he also remained pres­ident of the Council for Eco­nomic and Devel­opment Affairs, defense min­ister, and began acting as first deputy prime min­ister. He heads most of the government’s depart­ments now.

But MBS is not loved by all and his rise to power has caused concern. Before he became crown prince, MBS was subject to harsh crit­icism over his involvement in the Yemen crisis that began in 2015. ABC News reported that even during his trip to U.S., riots against MBS were planned in Boston by stu­dents and in Wash­ington by CODEPINK, an anti-war group.  

As the defense min­ister, MBS sent troops in 2015 to Yemen to fight off the Shiite Houthi rebels who were rebelling against Yemen’s mil­itary and gov­ernment. Since Yemen is in Saudi Arabia’s backyard, there was a legit­imate security concern for Saudi com­mu­nities near the border. As the Sunni power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has to keep Shiite enemies from creeping up on its borders, which meant pro­tecting the Yemeni gov­ernment instead of letting wild Shiite Houthis take it over. In 2015, many also sup­posed that Iran sup­ported the Houthis, Saudi Arabia’s and everyone else’s great enemy.  

The inter­vention became chaotic, espe­cially after cer­tainty arose that Iran had not finan­cially sup­ported the Houthis. But, MBS could not have pre­dicted the turn that the inter­vention in Yemen would take. He tried to crush the Houthis, but instead, the Houthis have retal­iated in smaller groups. They enjoy firing rockets into Saudi Arabian com­mu­nities near the border to con­tinue border squabbles that keep the Saudi mil­itary busy. MBS can no longer choose whether to secure the border or not; it’s a necessity to keep his people safe.

Aside from ongoing crit­icism about the Yemen crisis, as the new crown prince, MBS is now attacked as a power hungry indi­vidual. Critics cyn­i­cally assume that all of MBS’s recent reforms are part of his plan to keep gaining power because he is just an ambi­tious power monger and has no true interest in changing Saudi Arabia.

Time will tell if MBS is a mega­lo­maniac, but being a power monger and reformer are not nec­es­sarily mutually exclusive. Without the immense power that MBS now yields in his various posi­tions, he would not have authority to enact the reforms that are bringing Saudi Arabia out of its unen­lightened exis­tence and into the west­ernized, twenty-first century.

Before MBS even became crown prince he was pur­suing his “Saudi Vision 2030,” a long term plan for reforming the kingdom’s economy and social structure. His first step was to begin a long process of reforming the kingdom’s economy which has revolved around one com­modity for decades: oil.

With dropping oil prices, MBS began shrewdly looking to the future and working to wean Saudi Arabia off its oil addiction. Reuters reported in 2016 that he wants to sell huge amounts of the kingdom’s national oil company, Aramco, and begin to diversify the economy so that it doesn’t revolve around oil. This is why he is meeting with U.S. figures like Cook, Bloomberg, and Gates.

According to Reuters, his financial plans for Aramco and the whole economy would mean “raising non-oil revenue to 600 billion riyals ($160 billion) by 2020 and 1 trillion riyals ($267 billion) by 2030 from 163.5 billion riyals ($43.6 billion) last year.” This would sta­bilize the kingdom’s economy so that it doesn’t shift every time oil prices change.

“We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of com­modity price volatility or external markets,” MBS said at a press con­ference in 2016.

With financial reforms underway, MBS turned to reforming Saudi Arabian society once he became crown prince. His first step was beginning an anti-cor­ruption movement. By November he had arrested more than 300 Saudi Arabian princes and elites.

Critics may view his cam­paign against cor­ruption as an attempt to remove other influ­ential royal members or business people to shore up his power and his future throne. Although he has exer­cised his power, he is nonetheless a reformer.

MBS is also looking to reform Saudi’s culture by tran­si­tioning to a more mod­erate Islam, instead of the ultra-con­ser­v­ative Islam that has pre­vailed in the kingdom for decades.

“We are simply reverting to what we fol­lowed — a mod­erate Islam open to the world and all reli­gions. 70 percent of the Saudis are younger than 30, hon­estly we won’t waste 30 years of our life com­bating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and imme­di­ately,” he said.

Returning to mod­erate Islam means getting rid of prim­itive and backward customs that the kingdom clung to. Movie the­aters have reopened, women can attend soccer games, join the mil­itary, and soon, they will be allowed to drive. Public events will be co-ed and MBS has neu­tralized the power of the reli­gious police who used to harass women for how they dressed and arrest people for irre­li­gious behavior.

MBS is fully aware that the majority of the pop­u­lation in his kingdom is part of a young, west­ernized gen­er­ation and in order to keep up with the rest of the world, Saudi Arabia has to be reformed in some fun­da­mental ways. This means rec­og­nizing women’s rights in society, tran­si­tioning out of ultra-con­ser­v­ative, and even extreme Islam, and diver­si­fying an economy that pre­vi­ously revolved around one com­modity.

MBS has been working for years to change and protect Saudi Arabia’s society and economy. Now as the most pow­erful man in the kingdom, he can enforce his reforms and quickly implement healthy change. MBS is the pow­erful figure that Saudi Arabia needs to finally bring it out of its prim­itive, oil-infat­uated exis­tence and into the modern world. Now he just needs to con­vince the U.S. of Saudi Arabia’s new char­acter.

Abby Liebing is a sophomore studying history.