In This Review

Mohammed bin Salman: The Icarus of Saudi Arabia?
Mohammed bin Salman: The Icarus of Saudi Arabia?
By David B. Ottaway
Lynne Reinner, 2021, 232 pp

Ottaway puts his decades of reporting on Saudi Arabia for The Washington Post to good use in sketching this portrait of the polarizing Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely known as MBS. Characterizing the 36-year-old as both a reflection and an advocate of change in the kingdom, Ottaway concedes that he did not anticipate MBS’s meteoric rise. Even more perplexing has been MBS’s apparent consolidation of personal power in a system long thought to be governed by painstaking consensus building within the royal family and lubricated by the generous distribution of the country’s oil wealth among its princes. As his book’s subtitle suggests, Ottaway suspects that MBS may be overreaching, especially in having ordered the brutal murder of the dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, but he admits that the prince has yet to pay any discernible price for his impulsiveness and brutality. Ottaway concludes by measuring MBS against a number of other ruthless Middle Eastern reformers, including Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. But perhaps the most useful analog is one Ottaway does not cite: Muammar al-Qaddafi, the handsome young modernizer who overthrew the king of Libya in 1969. Ottaway’s discussion, particularly of the economy that powers the kingdom and empowers its rulers, is nonetheless brisk and useful.