Ideas. Action. Impact. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy The Washington Institute: Improving the Quality of U.S. Middle East Policy

Other Pages

Policy Analysis

Policy Notes 63

A Fifty-Year Reign? MbS and the Future of Saudi Arabia

Simon Henderson

Also available in العربية

April 2019

The Washington Institute has recently been sponsoring a series of discussions about sudden succession in the Middle East. Each session focuses on scenarios that might unfold if a specific ruler or leader departed the scene tomorrow. Questions include these: Would the sudden change lead to different policies? Would it affect the stability of the respective countries involved, or the region as a whole? What would be the impact on U.S. interests? Would the manner of a leader's departure make a difference? The discussions also probe how the U.S. government might adjust to the new situation or influence outcomes.

This essay, third in a series resulting from these sessions on succession, shifts the lens to Saudi Arabia, rather ‎well known for eccentric leadership transitions since the modern kingdom was founded in 1932. One ‎monarch, Saud, was forced to abdicate in 1964 under family pressure. The next, Faisal, was assassinated in 1975 ‎by a nephew. King Khalid followed, but he was just a figurehead. And so on until the thirty-three-year-old ‎phenomenon known as MbS, a modernizer who has quickly gained notoriety for his reckless administrative ‎style. Whether he ultimately ascends the throne will entail plenty of plot twists, but it also holds serious ‎implications for the kingdom, the future of the region, and U.S. interests.


Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at The Washington Institute, where he specializes in energy matters and the conservative Arab states of the Persian more