Prince Muhammad was born in Jeddah on 30 August 1959. He is the second-eldest son and one of ten children of Prince Nayef. He has an elder brother, Prince Saud, and a younger brother, Prince Fahd. Their mother is Al Jawhara bint Abdulaziz bin Musaed Al Jiluwi, who is a member of the Al Jiluwi branch of the House of Saud.
Muhammad's father Nayef was one of the Sudairi Seven, a power bloc of sons of the kingdom's founder, King Abdelaziz (known in the West as Ibn Saud), and Hussa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi. Thus, Prince Muhammad was born to an especially privileged position in the House of Saud dynasty: a paternal grandson of the founding monarch, and child of one of the original king's favourite sons. Two of Prince Muhammad's full uncles, Fahd and Salman, have reigned as King during Muhammad's lifetime.
Muhammad bin Nayef studied in the United States. He took courses at Lewis & Clark College but did not receive a degree. He attended the FBI's security courses from 1985 to 1988, and trained with Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism units from 1992 to 1994.
Muhammad bin Nayef was appointed assistant interior minister for security affairs in 1999. He had been a businessman before this appointment. He was widely credited for the success of the Ministry's counter-terrorism program. He was also regarded as the architect of the government's counter-insurgency program. He also served as the director of civil defense during his term as assistant minister. He was considered to be an effective assistant interior minister.
In 2004, he was appointed to the rank of minister, becoming number two at the Ministry of Interior. In October 2010, he warned the U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser of the 2010 cargo plane bomb plot. After the appointment of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as interior minister upon the death of Prince Nayef in July 2012, Prince Muhammad became deputy interior minister.
In November 2009, King Abdullah appointed Muhammad as a member of the influential Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia. This move was regarded as approval of the increase in then-Crown Prince Nayef's power by King Abdullah. On the other hand, this appointment enabled Prince Muhammad to extend his influence over the government's economy policy.
On 5 November 2012, King Abdullah issued a royal decree and dismissed Prince Ahmed, Minister of Interior, from his office and appointed Prince Muhammad as minister. He became the tenth interior minister of Saudi Arabia. Prince Muhammad took the oath of office in front of King Abdullah on 6 November 2012. His appointment was not regarded very positively by human rights activists due to Prince Muhammad's professional experience as a tough enforcer who imprisoned thousands of suspected troublemakers in Saudi Arabia. However, he was regarded as less corrupt and less likely to abuse his power in comparison to other senior princes of his generation.
Prince Muhammad met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2013. He then met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. on 14 January 2013. They discussed issues of security and regional developments. In late January 2013, Prince Muhammad announced that Saudi women would be allowed to work at the directorate.
In February 2014, Prince Muhammad replaced Bandar bin Sultan, then intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, and was placed in charge of Saudi intelligence in Syria. Muhammad was assisted in this effort by Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
On 10 February 2017, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) granted its "George Tenet Medal" to Bin Nayef for what the agency called his "excellent intelligence performance, in the domain of counter-terrorism and his unbound contribution to realize world security and peace". The medal, named after George Tenet, CIA's longest-serving director, from 1996 to 2004, was handed to him by the newly appointed CIA director Mike Pompeo during a reception ceremony in the Saudi capital Riyadh in the presence of Minister of Defense Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud. It was the first reaffirmation of ties between the Islamic monarchy and United States since President Donald Trump took office on 20 January 2017. The reception was attended by senior civil and military officials and by the U.S. Charge d'affaires to the Kingdom, Christopher Hensel. Bin Nayef and Pompeo discussed security with Turkish officials, he said Saudi Arabia's relationship with the U.S. is "historic and strategic" and added that the move shows Washington's recognition of what he called Riyadh's anti-terrorism efforts.
On 23 January 2015 it was announced that King Salman had appointed Muhammad bin Nayef as deputy crown prince. The announcement reportedly helped calm fears of dynastic instability over the line of succession. Thus, Prince Muhammad became the first of his generation to be officially in line for the throne. In addition to his other posts Prince Muhammad was named the chair of the Council for Political and Security Affairs which was established on 29 January 2015.
On 29 April 2015, Muhammad bin Nayef was named Crown Prince, replacing Muqrin bin Abdulaziz in the post.
Muhammad bin Nayef was deposed by royal decree on 21 June 2017, and Mohammad bin Salman was made heir apparent to the throne. Muhammad was also relieved of all positions by royal decree. Abdulaziz bin Saud Al Saud replaced Prince Muhammad as Minister of Interior. The change of succession had been predicted in December 2015 by an unusually blunt and public memo published by the German Federal Intelligence Service, for which it was subsequently rebuked by the German government.
As chair of the Council for Political and Security Affairs, the Prince was a leading commander of Operation Decisive Storm, the first major Saudi military operation of the 21st century.
According to the New York Times, reports of "current and former United States officials and associates of the royal family" speaking on condition of anonymity, state that the ouster of Muhammad bin Nayef and his replacement by Muhammad bin Salman in late June 2017 was not "seamless", but involved Muhammad bin Nayef being "held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne". He was still being confined to his palace as of July 19, 2017. In reply, Saudi official have dismissed these reports as "unfounded and untrue in addition to being nonsense" and a "complete fantasy worthy of Hollywood," according to Reuters news agency.
Muhammad bin Nayef, unlike most of the royal family, actively talks to the media. Concerning the struggle against terrorism, he adopts a policy of the iron fist like his father, Prince Nayef. He, and other decision-making elites, have asserted that terrorism must be treated as a form of crime and fought with ruthless policing methods. Walid Jumblatt described Muhammad bin Nayef as the Saudi equivalent of General Ashraf Rifi, former director-general of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces.
Muhammad bin Nayef was commended by Western intelligence agencies for Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism programs. He called for a "security channel" with the United States to facilitate information exchange. He firmly supported U.S. President Barack Obama in his opposition to the release of detainee interrogation photographs. He thought that Yemen was a "dangerous failed state" and becoming a serious threat to Saudi Arabia. He further believed that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was losing control. He suggested a strategy of directly working with Yemeni tribes, condemning terrorism.
He praised General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a "good man". He voiced his concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program. He defers foreign policy issues to the King. After his appointment as interior minister, U.S. diplomats argued that he is "the most pro-American minister in the Saudi Cabinet".
The Economist described Prince Muhammad as energetic and low-key, and stated that he was one of the candidates for the throne when the line of succession passes to the grandsons of King Abdulaziz. He was also considered to be one of the possible contenders after his father's death in June 2012. In 2011, Michael Hayden reported that Prince Muhammad was the world's fifth most powerful defender. On 4 March 2016, Muhammad bin Nayef was decorated with the French Legion of Honour by French president François Hollande. In April 2016, Prince Muhammad was named by Time as one of the 100 Most Influential People.
On June 21, 2017, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef was replaced as the heir to the Saudi Kingdom by Prince Mohammad bin Salman in a move considered to be "upending decades of royal custom and profoundly reordering the kingdom’s inner power structure." He also lost his position as interior minister. Over the last 15 years, bin Nayef had been considered Saudi Arabia's most influential security official, maintaining close connections with American and British intelligence communities.
Muhammad bin Nayef has escaped four assassination attempts. He was injured in the third attempt, and unhurt in the others.
The third attempt was on 27 August 2009. Muhammad bin Nayef was injured by Abdullah al-Asiri, a suicide bomber linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Asiri spoke to Muhammad bin Nayef a few days prior to the bombing, and expressed a desire to surrender himself to the authorities as part of the country's terrorist rehabilitation program. This was apparently a plot to get admitted to the Prince's palace. Al-Asiri is believed to have traveled to Jeddah from the Yemeni province of Marib. During Ramadan, al-Asiri waited in line at the Prince's palace as a "well-wisher". He exploded a suicide bomb, killing himself, but apparently only slightly injuring Muhammad bin Nayef, who was protected from the full force of the blast by al-Asiri's body. The explosive device was hidden inside al-Asiri's rectum and anal canal, which security experts described as a novel technique. Such a device has since come to be known as a surgically implanted improvised explosive device (SIIED), or body cavity bomb (BCB). Muhammad bin Nayef appeared on state television with a bandage around two of his fingers on his left hand. He stated, "I did not want him to be searched, but he surprised me by blowing himself up."
According to Bruce Riedel, a former US Central Intelligence Agency officer and director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, “the weight of the evidence I have seen is that [bin Nayef] was more injured in the assassination attempt than was admitted." To treat his injuries the prince "got onto a pain killer routine that was very addictive. I think that problem got progressively worse.” According to The New York Times, citing "an associate of the royal family", the prince's alleged addiction was cited to "strengthen support for the sudden change in the line of succession" that removed bin Nayef from office.
This was the first assassination attempt against a royal family member since 2003, when Saudi Arabia faced a sharp uptick in Al Qaeda-linked attacks. The last assassination attempt against Prince Muhammad was in August 2010.
Muhammad bin Nayef is a son-in-law of and also a full nephew of Sultan bin Abdulaziz. He is also a nephew of King Fahd and King Salman. He is married to Reema bint Sultan Al Saud, his first cousin, and they have two daughters.
In April 2016, Muhammad bin Nayef was implicated in the Panama Papers leaks.