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A Leader In A Hurry: Mohammed Bin Salman

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”-Machiavelli

In the newsletter we published in late August, we introduced the methodology that our team has developed that fuses the science of machine intelligence and network analysis with the art of “smart data.” This is data that is collected and compiled by a regional expert and addresses the culturally and historically relevant relationships that result in people and groups acquiring influence.

In this newsletter, we introduced our initial analysis of the networks of influence in 3 countries on the Arabian Peninsula: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

Our Saudi analysis highlighted the internal power struggle between the older, wealthy, established generation of power players against the next generation led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and how power may be rebalancing within the many different branches of the royal family. Since that time, things have only become more interesting.

With the clumsy and heavy-handed recent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkey, MBS, who is widely thought to be behind Khasoggis’s death, has now become a lightning rod and allies like the United States are in full damage-control mode.

So, revisiting the sage advice of Machiavelli from above: Who are the people around MBS? Our team recently took a closer look. Our White Paper can be accessed here.

What did we discover?Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and former crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef are competing power brokers; however, at this time Muhammad bin Salman appears to have a more cohesive and functional network.King Salman is appointing younger, less experienced individuals to significant government positions, likely at the urging of the crown prince, valuing loyalty and similar thinking over experience in government or world exposure.The Anti-corruption Committee investigations have targeted several prominent influencers and connectors among the Saudi elite, likely with the intention of disempowering those considered to be a political threat to the crown prince.Should those who have suffered at the hands of the Anti-corruption Committee investigations choose to work together, they have the resources, connectivity, and influence to be a serious threat to Muhammad bin Salman’s future as monarch.

Influencers in Saudi elite networks as of September 2018. Nodes are colored by shared membership in mathematically-determined sub-groups.

How did we develop these insights? It's the result of our smart data collection process in which we identify those culturally and historically relevant relationships and then analyze them using our innovations in network analysis and then the results are intuitively displayed in the client's browser with the ability to self-explore the data. Actionable intelligence in an instant at the user level.

Our team has also developed another powerful visualization to distill the power brokers in a complex data set. Our approach gives each member of the network two scores. The first quantifies how influential a person is based upon their connections to other influential members and the second, quantifies if a person os a bridge between sub-groups in the larger network. We then place the key members of the influence network on a grid and assign them a characteristic.

The chart displays the intersection of influencers and connectors, revealing three super brokers.

What does this analysis reveal?

  • Three people are Super Brokers, they wield both influence and have wide connectivity across sub-groups:  MBS, Muhanned bin Nayef, and Saleh Kamel. However, the activities of the Anti-corruption Committee raise legitimate questions about the continued presence of MbN and Saleh Kamel on both lists.

  • If we dig a little deeper, looking at who the Anti-corruption Committee has targeted, it becomes clear that these investigations have sought to target not just the rich and famous, but also the influential and connected. This supports the theory that the investigations are not just designed to refill state coffers or demonstrate that this regime is committed to rehabilitating the Saudi way of doing business, but that they are being used as a tool to disempower those who could be perceived as a threat to MBS or what he wants to achieve.

  • If we expand the list of connectors only slightly, several additional super brokers appear, including those with experience, like Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan and Minister of Culture and Information Awwad al-Awwad. Minister of Health Tawfiq al-Rabiah also fits in this list, though King Salman’s decision to appoint him to the Health Ministry after serving as the Minister of Commerce and Industry under King Abdallah – a position for which his background in industrial technology is a better fit – raises questions about how al-Rabiah’s personal politics are viewed.

During the course of this analysis, we have only scratched the surface of the art of the possible using our approach. The data set is incredibly rich and as we refine and improve the ever-evolving information, our analysis becomes richer and more detailed.

Interest in learning more, or having our extraordinary team conduct similar analyses for you? Contact us at

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