The arrests of his cousin and uncle last week are the latest incidents to contribute towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s notorious reputation.
The arrest of former Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and King Salman’s younger brother Ahmed bin Abdulaziz by the current Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) marks a new landmark in young royal’s attempts to tighten his grip on power.
While King Salman remains the nominal monarch with some input in policies, he has largely delegated his powers to his 34-year-old son, MBS.
Since exploding onto the scene in 2015, MBS has been a divisive and defining figure in Saudi Arabia, radically transforming Riyadh’s domestic and foreign policy.
At home he has set Saudi Arabia on a path towards social liberalisation, by allowing greater freedoms for women, allowing music concerts, and cinemas, while simultaneously launching a campaign of repression targeting women’s rights activists and other political opponents.
Abroad, the Saudi prince has been the architect of an aggressive foreign policy, attacking Houthi rebels in Yemen, blockading neighbouring Qatar and strengthening cooperation with Israel.
Unlike many Saudi rulers before him, MBS has shown no regard for diplomatic niceties and has not been afraid to directly get his hands dirty on occasion.
After an initial warm reception among Western leaders, MBS has earned a reputation for brutality and recklessness.
Here we look at some of the incidents that have contributed to this reputation.
Purging family members
MBS began his crackdown on rivals within the royal family and the Saudi elite in November 2017, imprisoning dozens in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton on ostensible charges of corruption.
The initial purge included royals, such as the kingdom’s richest man, Prince Waleed bin Talal, and others who had served as ministers and advisors to the royal court.
Many were freed after handing over billions to the Saudi government.
The March 2020 purge that nabbed Muhammad bin Nayef and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz included up to 18 other senior princes.
Kidnapping the Lebanese prime minister
Despite Saudi denials, the former prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, who at the time was in office was held against his will by the Saudi government and forced to announce his resignation from the Lebanese government.
MBS believed that Hariri had been too tolerant of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.
Hariri was eventually freed after intervention by the French government following complaints by Lebanon’s president.
Killing Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi Arabia initially denied that it had any role in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was once a royal family adviser.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered and dismembered in Istanbul while visiting the Saudi consulate to obtain marriage paperwork.
When evidence emerged that the killers were close aides of Mohammed bin Salman, Riyadh changed its narrative by claiming that they were intelligence agents who had gone rogue.
Western intelligence agencies, as well as Turkish authorities, have concluded that MBS directly ordered the murder.
Hacking Jeff Bezos
Five months before Khashoggi’s murder, MBS was directly involved in the hacking of a phone belonging to Washington Post and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.
Mohammed Bin Salman is believed to have sent an infected video file to Bezos via WhatApp. The malware contained within it, is believed to have extracted significant troves of data to the Saudis.
Reportedly keeping his mother away from King Salman
US intelligence officials believe that MBS has restricted the movements of his mother, Fahdah bint Falah bin Sultan.
She is believed to have not seen her husband, King Salman, for several years as MBS is reportedly concerned about the influence she may have on him.
Bint Falah bin Sultan is said to be concerned that her son’s behaviour risks the unity of the royal family.