Mohammed bin Salman is choosing Saudi Arabia over the global world order and leaders are panicking.
and he's winning.
Hello and welcome to Whale Hunting, a weekly newsletter that delves into the hidden worlds of wealth and power. I'm Bradley Hope, co-founder of Project Brazen and long-time observer of the secretive class of monarchs, low-profile businessmen and criminals who wield a far more significant influence on the world than initially meets the eye. Last week, I examined the shifting power dynamics in Abu Dhabi and the regional ramifications. Today, I'm looking at the return of Mohammed bin Salman as the most consequential monarch in the world. Happy hunting.
When Justin Scheck and I were working on our book Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman's Ruthless Quest for Global Power, I had a lovely trip to Riyadh in early 2019. It was just a few months before the pandemic and I spent a blissful few days wandering around like a tourist. As any old Gulf hand knows, there's no such thing as scheduling a meeting with a powerful person in Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. Once you get the invitation, you have to show up and wait for it to happen (the book "Hologram for the King" was perfect encapsulation of this).
On my very last night, I went to sleep wearing my jacket and tie (yes, I'm an old-school reporter in that way). At 2 a.m., my phone buzzed: He'll see you now. I was whisked to a government office, given tea and finally at 4 a.m. I had a delightful meeting with a man who I cannot name here because of the ground rules I agreed to at the time.
As our meeting was nearing the end, I asked if it was true that MBS loved video games like PUBG. This individual insisted MBS that while MBS did enjoy video games, it wasn't that kind. "His favorite is Age of Empires," he told me.
As I've been reading the news lately, I reflected on that anecdote again and concluded that most of the commentators have it completely wrong.