Brunei's 'Instagrammer' prince gives royal family a fresh look
By Martin ABBUGAO
In real life he's a prince of an Islamic sultanate steeped in centuries-old traditions, but on Instagram Brunei's Abdul Mateen is more Hollywood than royalty as he flies in fighter jets, drives speed boats and poses bare-chested after workouts.
Mateen, 32, was one of Asia's most eligible bachelors until he married his 29-year-old fiancee on Thursday in a male-only ceremony at a mosque in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.
As the 10th child and fourth son of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, he is unlikely to ever ascend the throne of the oil-rich country on the northern edge of Borneo island.
Yet, Mateen's matinee idol looks, rippling six-pack and sense of adventure -- captured in photos and videos that are carefully curated on Instagram -- have turned him into a public relations asset for the royal family, which has been battered by scandals and global censure over the years.
"He's a breath of fresh air," said Bruneian snack store worker Amyra Syahira Awang Ahmad, 20, who is among Mateen's 2.5 million Instagram followers.
A pre-wedding photo of Mateen and his fiancee, Yang Mulia Anisha Rosnah, posted on Instagram on December 31 shows him wearing an open-neck white shirt under a dark, double-breasted blazer, while she is in a cream pantsuit and no hijab.
It drew more than 11,000 comments with some smitten followers lamenting that 2024 was starting with "heartbreak" -- a reference to their own rather than the prince's.
The photo appears to be part of an effort to burnish a more modern image of the conservative country -- and make the royal family relevant to a younger generation of Bruneians that has grown up on social media.
"Prince Mateen would be what I describe as an important youth change-maker in Brunei society," said Mustafa Izzuddin, a visiting professor of international relations at the Islamic University of Indonesia.
"You can call him a cultural Instagrammer because he is adept at connecting with the younger folk," he told AFP.
"The current generation have different interests, values and preferences."
- Winning hearts and minds -
After more than five decades on the throne, the 77-year-old sultan needed to "refresh the social contract" between himself and his 450,000 subjects, said Izzuddin.
The absolute monarchy has seen its reputation tarnished in recent decades.
There was a spectacular falling out between the sultan and his playboy younger brother Prince Jefri Bolkiah over allegations that Jefri had embezzled billions during his time as finance minister in the 1990s.
The country also faced a global backlash in 2019 when sharia law was added to its penal code, allowing for death by stoning and amputations of limbs for certain crimes.
The code, however, has not been actively enforced after an outcry from celebrities, the United Nations and rights campaigners.
Mateen, who often accompanies his father on official visits abroad wearing Western-style suits, appears to be leading the way in winning over young hearts and minds.
His public profile has exploded on Instagram with posts showing him playing polo, boxing in a ring, dabbling in photography, and posing in military uniform.
One video shows the prince -- who is a helicopter pilot in his country's air force and also trained in the special forces -- flying in a F/A 18 Super Hornet warplane.
It generated more than 250,000 likes and a comparison to "Top Gun" star Tom Cruise.
Other photos of Mateen's well-chiselled upper body have drawn as many as more than half a million likes -- and countless heart and lovestruck emojis.
"Hi James Bond 007!" one admirer commented on a photo of Mateen walking bare-chested on a beach, with a jet ski and speedboat visible in the background.
University student Nazatul Izzati Saifulrizal, 19, proudly showed AFP a selfie she took with the prince, who she described as down-to-earth.
"He asked me about my studies... he asked about my family background," she said, adding she felt "touched" by the gesture.