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The intervention has largely been a disaster, with thousands dead and no end to the conflict in sight, but that didn’t stop bin Salman from continuing to expand his influence under his father’s regime.MBS became the leading influence on the kingdom’s domestic policy as well as its foreign relations, serving essentially as the head of government while his father performed the formal head of state duties.That meant his coronation kicked off a quiet struggle for influence over the direction of the Saudi state between the many competing branches of the sprawling royal family.Bin Salman, just 29 at the time of his father’s ascension, quickly emerged as the big winner: Shortly after Salman’s coronation, the king appointed his son defense minister."We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe," the prince said at an October conference."Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under 30, and honestly we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas.” By all accounts, he’s fairly serious about these causes.“The unusual arrest of prominent figures close to the Saudi royal family this weekend is a big deal.It is part of unprecedented and hasty measures that could have tremendous repercussions on Saudi Arabia and the region," Abdeslam Maghraoui, a professor of political science at Duke University, writes via email.
Over the weekend, Saudi police arrested an astonishing 11 princes, along with dozens of other officials and businessmen, at the direction of bin Salman and his father, King Salman.
But on foreign policy, he has been incredibly destructive — masterminding Saudi Arabia’s escalation in Yemen, a war that has claimed more than 13,500 lives, and badly bungling a diplomatic crisis with Qatar.
The weekend’s crackdown is thus not merely a minor family dispute: It is the most significant shot yet in a war over Saudi Arabia’s policy and political future, one that is very far from over.
MBS wasted little time in exercising his new influence.
He was, by all accounts, the driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to intervene in neighboring Yemen’s civil war in April 2015 — supporting the internationally recognized government against the Houthi rebel group, viewed in Riyadh as a proxy for Iran.