Known as the Minister of Everything, deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, the favored 30-year-old son of the geriatric king of Saudi Arabia, is a man on a mission.
He plans to rapidly change the world’s largest oil exporter into a modern, industrialized economy with opportunities for all, including women. Prince Mohammad has already shown that he is a man who gets his way.
At the recent meeting of oil-exporting countries in Doha, Qatar, the prince overruled Ali Al-Naimi, 80, the long-serving Saudi oil minister, refusing to consider a plan to freeze oil production unless archrival Iran did. Subsequently, King Salman abruptly ousted Al-Naimi and replaced him with Khalid Al-Falih, 55, chairman of Saudi Aramco and a strong supporter of the prince.
As chairman of the newly established Council for Economic and Development Affairs as well as head of Aramco’s Supreme Council, prince Mohammad plans to sell publicly a 5% stake in Aramco and create a $2 trillion public fund to invest in new industries. Aramco recently announced a $30 billion project with Saudi Basic Industries to develop an oil-to-chemicals plant at Yanbu, a major Red Sea port. It will also build a massive shipyard at Ras al-Khair on the country’s east coast.
Prince Mohammad, who holds a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University, is the youngest minister of Defense in the world. Shortly after assuming that post last year, he led Operation Decisive Storm, a coalition of nine Arab states that began airstrikes against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.
Forays into social issues may prove the most complex in the conservative kingdom, where women are not permitted to drive. “We believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain,” the young prince says.