Event Summary: Mohammed bin Salman: Icarus of Saudi Arabia?
On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel to discuss Mohammed bin Salman: The Icarus of Saudi Arabia?. The discussion featured David Ottaway, Middle East Fellow at the Wilson Center. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC.
At the outset of the discussion, Ottaway drew attention to the dramatic fall of Mohammed bin Salman’s image around the world. A few years ago, he visited the US where he toured both coasts, touring prominent universities and enjoying support as a reformer. But, shortly after this visit, he approved the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, effectively ruining his public perception across the globe. In terms of the government structure in Saudi Arabia, Ottaway explained that the King has always had the final say, but he would consult with other senior officials in order to arrive at a consensus before making major decisions. This structure and approach allowed power to be diffused throughout Riyadh. However, Mohammed bin Salman got rid of this system and instead centralized the decision making process, bringing it into his own hands. This has led to some points of disagreement between Mohammed bin Salman and his father. In terms of the Palestinian question, the older generation still wants to see Saudi Arabia as a defender of the Palestinian cause. The Saudi Crown Prince does not want to take this approach. There are also reports that King Salman was upset about the murder of Khashoggi. Finally, Ottaway underscored the dichotomy between the Saudi Crown Prince’s domestic and international reputation. Internally, he is seen as a good Machiavellian who garnered support from women and young people. From the outside, though, his foreign policy strategy is viewed as a disaster.