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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the fight against conservatism: a new way of Saudi Arabia
Material posted: Publication date: 29-12-2019

Mohammed bin Salman, the young and ambitious son of the king of Saudi Arabia is considered to be by far the most controversial figure in the Persian Gulf. Upon assuming the office of the crown Prince, Salman bin set themselves an almost impossible task - to change for the world community the image of Saudi Arabia as too religious and closed countries-the conservatives on the image of a progressive and modern state.

Saudi political arena was shaken by the emergence of a new political luminary, Mohammed bin Salman, when he was appointed heir to the Saudi throne in the summer of 2017[1] to bypass the historically established order of transfer of power to the sons and brothers of the founder of the KSA, king Abdul Aziz Al Saud. For more than two years of tenure of the heir of the crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman has managed to concentrate all the levers of power in their hands, and today, given the state of health and advanced age of the current king Salman, actually runs the country. The activities of the heir, seeking at all costs to strengthen its position in the country and on the world stage, is estimated by the ruling circles as well as representatives of the clergy of the Kingdom is very unique. This is understandable, as held by the Mohammed bin Salman reform and foreign policy initiatives illustrate not only the hard style of management, but also the translation of the political life of the country to a new and more progressive rails.


Much has been said about the "adventures" of a Saudi Prince in foreign policy, but no less extravagant - and quite unexpectedly - turned out to be some of his decisions in the political administration. Mohammed bin Salman from the beginning of his "government" stated that it seeks to "moderate Islam" in the country[2]. Logical in this regard has been the steps it has taken associated with women's rights in the Kingdom. For the first time, they were granted the right to drive a car and it was a real revolution in the conservative Saudi society, has repeatedly criticized the attitude towards the female sex.


And it was only 2017 Already in 2018, a decision was taken in line with the "progressivism" - Saudi women were allowed to travel unaccompanied by men; so they were allowed to self-register the birth of children, to submit documents of marriage or divorce - the measures previously unthinkable in the Kingdom. In the same year the government went further: they allowed women to attend soccer matches in stadiums[3]. To present, 2019 was made another step towards the elimination of gender segregation in December of this year, women were allowed to visit the restaurants with men (previously assumed separate rooms for both sexes)[4].


So, Muhammad bin Salman has actively undertaken to solve a perennial problem in the UK is the lack of basic rights of women. However, the young heir didn't stop there and has taken a number of measures aimed at complete re-branding of the domestic lifestyle of the Kingdom. So, from 2017, the religious police have lost their right to arrest citizens; the Saudis were allowed to visit the cinema in August 2017 started resignation too "fanatical" imams of mosques[5]. The changes have also affected the economy, the Mohammed bin Salman has been developed the so-called “Vision 2030”. The main purpose of this program is modernization of the economy, innovation and, most important, reducing the dependency of Saudi oil. The heir sure that even if “...oil is over...we can live without oil”.[6]


Saudi authorities have also set a goal to make the country a popular tourist destination and in September 2019 happened completely unexpected: for the first time in the history of the Kingdom allowed to issue tourist visas to people who want to visit the country not for religious reasons[7] (formerly visa is issued only for those who wished to perform religious pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina). This step was implemented completely in the technological spirit: from now on, tourists from 49 approved countries (including Russia) are allowed to issue electronic visa (e-visa) for up to 90 days on the site. The entire process takes place online, without the participation of the Embassy/consulates and visa centres - and takes a maximum half an hour. In addition, social networks are actively running a campaign is such Saudi facilities as the archaeological site of Mada'in al-Saleh and the historic town of El Diria, under the hashtag #visitsaudi. In addition, it is planned to cancel obligatory wearing of a headscarf and Abaya for the women. For the first time in 2018 in the capital of the Kingdom, Riyadh was held on the stage of the so-called alternative famous "Formula 1" - E-Prix with the participation of electric cars; in the same year, foreign singers were first allowed to perform in Saudi Arabia.


Mohammed bin Salman, taking into account the experience of its nearest neighbor - the UAE, determined to make this country a center of technological progress. Saudi Arabia under the leadership of bin Salman launched an ambitious project - the construction of the “city of the future” NEOM – a hub of innovation, estimated at 500 billion dollars.[8]. By design, NEOM have become "smart" city and a popular tourist area. Scheduled to be completed by 2025 KSA was the first country in the world conferring nationality on the robot[9]. Speaking of citizenship: Saudi Arabia will now be able to grant citizenship to foreigners ( previously absolutely unthinkable thing in a region like the Persian Gulf, where becoming a citizen of a state almost impossible) - namely "innovative" foreigners, inventors, and specialists in science, technology and medicine[10].


So we can conclude that under the actual guidance of the young heir bin Salman of Saudi Arabia for more than two years has made a huge step forward, deciding to gradually abandon the established way of life dictated by religious rules and to break the stereotypes in the world about the Kingdom. However, despite the reforms, still remains unresolved a number of issues.


As for the female population, it is important to emphasize that it remains in force many laws still restrict the rights of women. They are also still used in an unfair trial and undemocratic means of punishment. Women activists agitating for reform, the mass is arrested and kept in inhumane conditions. Regarding tourism, we can say that the country is still not quite ready to become a tourist center, like the UAE, despite a huge financial investment.


In General, many of the reforms were merely a smokescreen to hide the real situation in obdurate Saudi society, not priemysel any changes. The activity of the young and too ambitious heir causes dissatisfaction and criticism among the conservative-minded clergy officials and members of influential clans. Many in Saudi Arabia are unlikely to be willing to accept Mohammed bin Salman as king. Therefore, in the event of the death of the current king Salman, the peace process of transfer of power to Mohammed bin Salman, is questionable. Saudi Arabia could plunge into chaos from the power struggle and the possible desire of some segments of the society “clean” bin Salman. The stability of the monarchy and the political situation in the Kingdom as a whole in this case will be called into question, which will affect the entire Gulf region and all members of the GCC, as well as for leadership positions in the CSA and other international organizations.

Anastasia Ilyukhina


[1] تعيين محمد بن سلمان وليا للعهد ذروة قيادة ثورة في السعودية [Appointment of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown Prince –the peak of the revolution in the Saudi government]. URL:

[2] Saudi crown prince promises 'a more moderate Islam’. URL:

[3]Saudi football stadium welcomes women for the first time.

[4] السعودية تلغي تخصيص المطاعم لمدخلين منفصلين للرجال والنساء [Saudi Arabia abolishes the division of spaces restaurants on the basis of gender]

[5] Restructuring-Saudi. What reforms to expect from the future king of Saudi Arabia URL:

[6] “I Think in 2020 we will be able to live without oil” URL:

[7]Saudi Arabia invites tourists: what you need to know

[8] There's no place like NEOM. The Economist, 2017, 425 (9064), 45-46

[9] Saudi Arabia becomes the first country to grant citizenship to a robot. URL:

[10]Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship to people innovative

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