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How ‘cultural Instagrammer’ Prince Abdul Mateen is winning hearts and minds of young Bruneians, one post at a time

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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.

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A pre-wedding photo of Mateen and his fiancée, 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 said.

“The current generation have different interests, values and preferences.”

Prince Abdul Mateen’s bride Yang Mulia Anisha Rosnah (left) during the royal powdering ceremony at Istana Nurul Iman in Bandar Seri Begawan on January 10. Photo: AFP

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.

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (second left) pouring scented oil on the hands of Prince Abdul Mateen during the royal powdering ceremony in Bandar Seri Begawan on January 10. Photo: AFP

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 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.

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