(CNN)Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to inherit the throne from his 81-year-old father, is not a patient man. The 32-year-old is driving a frenetic pace of change in pursuit of three goals: securing his hold on power, transforming Saudi Arabia into a very different country, and pushing back against Iran.
In the two years since his father ascended the throne, this favorite son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz has been spectacularly successful at achieving the first item on his agenda. He has become so powerful so fast that observers can hardly believe how brazenly he is dismantling the old sedate system of family consensus, shared privilege and rigid ultraconservatism.
In the process, however, MBS, as the crown prince is known, is making a lot of enemies.
To put it in poker terms, the prince is, quite plainly, all in. He will either sweep the table, winning it all and becoming the all-powerful, transformative ruler of the desert kingdom, or fail spectacularly, with unforeseeable consequences for the region.
Much of the prince’s agenda is laudable and long overdue. He has no interest in democratic reforms, but he does want to introduce social reforms, and is making some progress on that front. That, too, is making him enemies among the old guard.
He has vowed to improve the status of women,announcing that the ban on women driving will be lifted next year, and limiting the scope of the execrable « guardianship » system, which treats women like children, requiring permission from male guardians for basic activities. He has also restrained the despised religious police. And just last month he called for a return to a « moderate Islam open to the world and all religions, » combating extremism and empowering its citizens.
On the economic front, bin Salman wants to reinvent an economy that became complacent from fantastic oil riches — only to see oil prices crash — and bring it into the 21st century with his ambitious Vision 2030 plan.
But the prince’s revolutionary changes require, above all, making sure he remains in charge, and he is letting nothing stand in his way.
The prince is not bluffing. That became startlingly clear last Sunday, when he unexpectedly ordered the arrest of some of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men.