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Prince Mohammed bin Salman (03:37)


Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was first seen as a progressive leader, but stories of violence against dissidents and journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder changed his place in global politics. A few months after the murder, Frontline reporter Martin Smith headed to Saudi Arabia to get a better understanding of the prince.

Jamal Khashoggi (03:04)

In October 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and was never seen again. He was an American resident and regularly wrote about Prince Mohammed for the Washington Post. It was revealed he was tortured, murdered, and dismembered by Saudi agents in the consulate on Prince Mohammed's orders.

Prince Mohammed's Past (03:20)

Prince Mohammed's father Suleman bi Abdulaziz al-Saud was the governor of Riyadh for 50 years and is credited with modernizing and expanding it. Prince Mohammed was singled out as his father's favorite because of their similar views. He worked alongside his father, who had a reputation for punishing his rivals within the royal family.

Prince Mohammed's Rise (04:56)

Prince Mohammed became second-in-line to the throne when his father was made king. They shared a tough leadership style and Prince Mohammed began attacking Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen as the new minister of defense. Despite not getting approval from the royal family or their American allies, Prince Mohammed's war was popular among the Saudi people.

Khashoggi's Role in Saudi Arabia (01:58)

Khashoggi supported Prince Mohammed's intervention in Yemen. Though he was a well-known journalist and political analyst in Saudi Arabia and the United States, Khashoggi was not a strong opponent of the Saudi government. He spoke positively about Prince Mohammed and thought he would be a reformer.

Prince Mohammed's Reforms (06:25)

Like many young Saudis, Prince Mohammed understood the country's culture and economy needed to change to sustain itself. He created an economic plan to diversify the economy and end the reliance on oil by opening to western technology, entertainment, and tourism. His social reforms downplayed religion and created a new sense of Saudi nationalism.

Prince Mohammed's Politics (02:23)

Though he brought in social and economic reforms, Prince Mohammed's politics did not differ from his father's. Many Saudi activists, academics, and journalists left the country seeking more freedom and self-determination. Many accused Prince Mohammed of using his public relation skills to make people think he was a reformer.

Prince Mohammed and Trump (05:19)

Shortly after Donald Trump's election, Khashoggi criticized him and was banned from all media by the Saudis. With Trump in power, Prince Mohammed reformed a strategic alliance with the United States. The Saudis wanted Trump to help them fight Iran and become the dominate power in the Middle East.

Prince Mohammed's Foreign Policy (04:12)

Saudi Arabia and other nearby countries cut off ties with the oil-rich Qataris, accusing them of funding terrorist groups. Prince Mohammed demanded they cut off all ties with Iran and shutdown state-owned broadcasting network Al Jazeera. Trump supported the Saudi's actions despite Qatar being a major U.S. ally and home to its largest military base in the Middle East.

Prince Mohammed's Political Rivals (02:52)

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was Prince Mohammed's only rival for the throne, so he relieved him of his duties and put him under house arrest. Prince Mohammed gained control of the defense and interior ministries and received a congratulatory call from Trump.

Prince Mohammed's Social Control (08:41)

Prince Mohammed was careful to manage the amount of social freedoms he gave to the majority-young and Twitter-using Saudi population. He picked Saud al-Qahtani to police Twitter and promote his image and the regime through fake accounts.

Prince Mohammed's Surveillance (05:55)

Al-Qahtani created a black list of Saudi citizens that Prince Mohammed's regime should investigate using a Twitter hashtag. A special one was created for journalist who criticized the regime. The Saudi regime hacked the accounts and phones of many activists and journalists.

Prince Mohammed's Purges (06:31)

With his media ban still in place, Khashoggi laid low and hoped it would be lifted. In September 2017, Prince Mohammed began arresting liberal-minded reformers and prominent religious figures, including Salman al-Ouda. American media outlets, including the Washington Post, contacted Khashoggi to comment on the situation, which he agreed to.

Prince Mohammed's Aggression (08:12)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was forced to resign by the Saudis for not doing enough to combat Iranian influence. Prince Mohammed had more than 200 powerful businessmen and princes arrested and held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel until they signed over money to the regime. Khashoggi accused Prince Mohammed of consolidating power in a Washington Post column.

Prince Mohammed's Popularity (05:12)

Prince Mohammed's campaign in Yemen continued as the civilian death toll reached into the thousands. He visited the United States, on an invitation from Trump, and was praised as a reformer.

Prince Mohammed's Deceptions (06:22)

Though he was praised in the U.S. for championing women's rights, Prince Mohammed did not lift the ban on women driving and had numerous activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, arrested. Khashoggi accused Prince Mohammed of repression and intimidation. The women were tortured and sexually assaulted, some by al-Qahtani.

Prince Mohammed's Human Rights Abuses (04:29)

Al-Hathloul and the other women imprisoned for their activism reported their abuse to the Saudi Arabia Commission on Human Rights. Smith struggled to get in contact with anyone from the commission, which said it could not protect the women from al-Qahtani. The Saudi regime denied any abuse and claimed the women have links to terrorist groups.

Khashoggi's Harassment (03:42)

The Saudi regime began going after family members of activists and journalists, including Khashoggi's son. Khashoggi was constantly being harassed on Twitter by al-Qahtani's army of fake accounts but also received positive feedback from Saudi readers about his columns. He submitted his last column on September 28, 2018.

Khashoggi's Murder (04:06)

On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudis claimed he left the building alive and disappeared in Turkey, which angered Turkish officials. Turkish police and intelligence investigated the murder. Saudi officials claimed the government was not involved and they were also investigating.

Prince Mohammed's Coverup (09:02)

In the weeks after Khashoggi's murder, Saudi officials insisted he was alive. Turkish intelligence found evidence of a cover up and revealed audiotapes of Khashoggi being tortured and killed. It became increasing unlike that the murder happened with Prince Mohammed's knowledge and Saudi officials began to claim it was a rogue operation.

Prince Mohammed's Involvement (05:44)

In November 2018, the CIA declared Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi's murder, but the Trump administration denied it. The CIA report was leaked to Warren Strobel at the "Wall Street Journal" and he reported Prince Mohammed's direct involvement. Prince Mohammed stood by it being a rogue operation.

Prince Mohammed's Future (05:40)

Activists and human rights officials are campaigning for those responsible for Khashoggi's murder to face justice. Prince Mohammed is moving forward with his social reforms, which has kept him popular among many young Saudis.

Credits: The Crown Prince of Arabia (01:01)

Credits: The Crown Prince of Arabia

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FRONTLINE investigates the rise and rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, including his vision for the future, his handling of dissent, his relationship with the US—and his ties to columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.

Length: 114 minutes

Item#: BVL203085

Copyright date: ©2019

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