About Royal Family Directory
The Saudi Royal Family Directory is the comprehensive source for biographic and geneological information on the Saudi Arabian Royal family. The database includes over 5,000 records of Saudi Royal family members. You can search the database and view the family tree for free. For online biographic reports, check out the subscription page.

Feature Article

Ambition Meets Reality: The Crown Prince's Dilemma

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, now effectively in charge of policy, has gambled that the support of the younger generation and a pragmatic approach to foreign and domestic affairs will win out over the traditional pillars of the Saudi state in his quest for major reform. His over-reliance on an American ally may jeopardize his ambitions, however, if a change in Washington comes to pass.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

Bob Woodward's book, "Rage", the latest in a recent spate of "tell-alls", reveals how Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) took advantage of incoming US President Donald Trump through a targeted campaign of flattery and praise, and ingratiated himself with the new administration using the knowledge that promises of massive business deals would overcome all other considerations. Despite his age, MbS has had ample experience dealing with vain and prickly old men, in the form of an over-abundance of cousins and uncles from the royal family, princes who craved the displays of deference and respect they felt their seniority and position entitled them. The crown prince recognized the similarities with Trump, and acted accordingly. The result, paired with Trump's natural mistrust of Iran and a general alignment of principles, was that MbS secured a diplomatic win; after the frustration of the Obama years, the Kingdom's relationship with the Americans seemed on much firmer ground.

Given virtual free reign, however, Saudi foreign policy quickly alienated almost all others. But Trump remained steadfast in his support, even after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, when he boasted of "saving" MbS, according to the book. Meanwhile, Saudi's standing with the rest of the world has plummeted, as traditional allies watch with horror the crushing of dissent at home and the ongoing normalization of one-man rule. MbS has seemingly not cared; his desire to shake things up has led to tensions with everyone from Canada to Pakistan, and there is no abatement in his continuing campaign to eliminate his rivals. But numerous quandaries threaten to derail his ambitions.

Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner has been working on a so-called "Mid-East peace deal" for years now, and his proposals (which seemed, to the Palestinians, to amount to little more than cash for silence) seemed dead in the water, so the announcement that both the U.A.E. and Bahrain intended to normalize ties with Israel was a bombshell. In practice, Bahrain had never been so opposed (it was an open secret that they had been quietly working towards that goal for decades), but the small nation is considered something of a "client-state" to Saudi, such is the influence their larger neighbor exerts. Saudi had effectively bailed out Bahrain after the Arab Spring uprisings, and the Shi'a population was thereafter firmly shut out, all but ensuring the safety of the Al Khalifa ruling family's position there. The thinking, therefore, is that Bahrain would hardly have taken the monumental step of recognizing Israel without Saudi tacit approval.

The question then, is whether Saudi will be next in line. Indeed, there are signs this is in the offing. Approval was granted to Israeli airlines for flyover rights, and MbS had been scheduled to travel secretly to Washington to meet with Trump (the trip was cancelled at the last minute when word of the visit leaked, and the Saudis feared protests and bad publicity). Getting the Kingdom on board with a "peace deal" would be a huge diplomatic victory for Trump on the eve of the presidential election, and MbS may be keen to help out in Trump's quest for another term in office. Another trip is planned, although no one realistically expects a sudden change in policy vis-a-vis Israel. King Salman made a point of stating that a just and lasting solution must be found for the Palestinians, implying there would be no sudden volte-face. Previously, too, he has come out forcefully on the subject of Palestine, when his son (the crown prince) indicated in an interview that the Israelis "deserved" a state. Officially, Saudi is firmly on the side of Palestinian statehood, using the framework of the late King Abdallah's two-state solution, and it is unthinkable that Salman would oversee a diplomatic breakthrough without significant concessions. Much, though, depends on the extent to which he retains command of policy decisions.

Related articles: An Unpredictable Prince: Realpolitik Or Royal Politics?
For access to the rest of this article, as well as the Datarabia archive, subscribe to the Royal Family Directory. Subscribe
Page 2: a precarious place to be?
Top 5 Royal Biographies

Al Walid bin Talal
Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz
Salman bin Abd al-Aziz
Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz
Nayif bin Abdallah


Past Feature Articles
An Unpredictable Prince: Realpolitik Or Royal Politics?

The juxtaposition of two events over the past month throws into focus the challenges faced by Saudi Arabia as the country nears the end of an era. First, the aging king was hospitalised; then news broke that his son and heir was alleged to have sent a hit squad to Canada in pursuit of a settling of scores. The timing of the announcements highlights the fragility of the current structure, wherein the monarch drifts towards the periphery, and policy depends on the whims and hidden motives of the crown prince.

Royal Family Domestic Politics in the Modern Era: Co-optation, Rebellion and Dissent (Part II)

With the end of the rebellion against what was to become the ruling branch of the family, power became more concentrated then ever in the hands of a small group of senior royals. The extended period from the 1980's until the present era, when a succession of aging kings took their place on the throne, denying the next generation the opportunity to establish itself, has accelerated this process. Now, as a new crown prince waits his turn, little remains of the traditional royal family structure.

Royal Family Domestic Politics in the Modern Era: Co-optation, Rebellion and Dissent (Part I)

Concerns are mounting for the well-being of a number of detained family members, amid uncertainty over the reasons for their arrest. The Al Saud is no stranger to intra-familial struggle, as an often bloody history shows, but does the treatment of internal conflict represent a marked shift in approach?

The Bay'ah and Royal Legitimacy: Misguided Ventures or Last Remaining Hope?

Reports that Prince Saud bin Abd al-Muhsin has arranged Cypriot citizenship for himself and family adds to an already grim picture of senior royals living in a state of fear over the upheaval caused by the ambitions of the country's crown prince. In particular, key members of a committee established to ensure legitimacy in the succession have been targeted in an attempt to preemptively strike a blow at potential opposition to his rise.

MbS and a Surfeit of Crises: Balancing Act or the End of Disruption?

As the enormous economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak become apparent, the crown prince has been caught off guard. As events make the realisation of his vision more and more unlikely, will he adapt and change course in time, or double down and risk it all?