The CIA recently concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was definitely involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Besides examining multiple sources of intelligence to reach this conclusion, the CIA also believe that Mohammed is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia who oversees even minor affairs. It would have been highly improbable for him to not have had knowledge of the killing.
Who is Mohammed bin Salman and how did he become the Crown Prince, the heir to the current king? Let’s take a look at the history of the al Saud family and the royal succession.
Al Saud Family and Royal Succession
Crown Prince Mohammed is the grandson of King Abdulaziz, the founder and first king of modern Saudi Arabia.
Also known as Ibn Saud in the western world, King Abdulaziz is from the Al Saud family that traces its origins back to Muhammed bin Saud, founder of the first Saudi State. The first Saudi State was roughly the same area of Saudi Arabia and lasted from 1744 to 1818 when it fell to the Ottoman Empire. The Al Saud family reconquered Riyadh and founded the second Saudi State, which ruled from 1824 to 1891 over a smaller area of Arabia.
King Abdulaziz spent decades to re-establish the Al Saud family’s rule in Arabia, starting with his conquest of Riyadh in 1902 and culminating in the founding of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
King Abdulaziz died in 1953 and was succeeded by Saud, one of his 36 surviving sons. King Abdulaziz had many wives and concubines, as is customary for his people and fathered almost 100 children! Since then, succession to the royal throne has been from brother-to-brother. The current King Salman is the 6th brother to be the ruler of Saudi Arabia.
The Rise of Mohammed bin Salman
Historically, the Crown Prince is the heir to the throne and the Deputy Crown Prince is next in line. Upon the King’s death, the Crown Prince will become the new King and the Deputy Crown Prince moves up to Crown Prince. For example, upon the death of King Abdullah in January 2015, Crown Prince Salman became King Salman and his half-brother, Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, became the Crown Prince.
However, just three months later in April 2015, King Salman moved aside Prince Muqrin and named his nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as Crown Prince, and his own son Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Deputy Crown Prince. As you can see, this effectively moved power to the next generation of the al Saud family.
Until 2015, Prince Mohammed bin Salman was relatively unknown. Since then, he has led Saudi Vision 2030 -- a plan to reduce his country's dependence on oil and improving healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The plan also aims to improve life for Saudi citizens such as loosening some social restrictions that younger citizens do not support.
As defense minister, Prince Mohammed has also been the primary leader of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, leading a coalition of Arab allies in a bombing campaign aimed at pushing rebels from the capital and restoring the government. The campaign has not made much progress in two years and Saudi Arabia has been accused of causing a humanitarian crisis with its military blockades.
In June 2017, King Salman once again changed the order of succession by replacing Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince. This announcement caps the new Crown Prince’s meteoric rise to power. King Salman is 81 and reputed to be in ill health. At age 33, Prince Mohammed bin Salman can rule for a long time when he eventually ascends the throne.
Sources: Washington Post, AlJazeera, Wikipedia, AlJazeera