op_andrews5_MANDEL NGANAFP via Getty Images_MBS Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The World According to MBS

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is wooing his country’s young people in order to head off the sort of discontent that erupted across the Middle East during the 2011 Arab Spring. As two recent books show, the events of almost a decade ago still weigh heavily on Arab governments and publics alike.

WINCHESTER, UK – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known to Saudis and foreigners alike as MBS – is already his country’s de facto ruler, owing to the infirmity of his 84-year-old father, King Salman. With the king currently recovering from gallbladder surgery, the spotlight is shining even more brightly on his anointed successor. The big question is what MBS – a 34-year-old leader in a country long known as a gerontocracy – portends both for Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia traditionally exercised its influence abroad by doling out money to supplicants, be they the Palestine Liberation Organization or governments in Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan, and by managing the oil price set by OPEC. As the guardian of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites, the kingdom could always rely on the respect and even the deference of the Muslim world. In both foreign and domestic policy, successive Saudi rulers preferred glacially slow evolution to rapid, sweeping change.

But that was before MBS. As Ben Hubbard shows in his eponymous, highly readable assessment of the crown prince’s extraordinarily rapid rise to quasi-dictatorial power, MBS has abandoned gradualism with a decisiveness that Machiavelli would have approved.

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