MBS [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] is a Saudi revolutionary, and the success of his policies will be felt not just in Saudi Arabia. So would their failure.
I have just returned from my second trip to Saudi Arabia since Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince, became the driving force for change in the kingdom. His efforts to transform Saudi society amount to a revolution from above. Many seem to equate him with the shah of Iran, who thought he could Westernize his country without modernizing its social, religious roots and was ultimately swept away in the revolution that produced the Islamic Republic of Iran. I see him as more like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — a leader who revolutionized Turkey by taking away the power of the religious base and secularizing the country.
To be sure, “MBS,” as he is known, is not trying to secularize Saudi Arabia. In his words, he is trying to “restore” Islam to its true nature and turn it away from those who sought to spread an intolerant, austere faith that created a justification for violence against all non-believers. Part of his challenge is that the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam — which guided the clerical establishment in the kingdom from its emergence in the late 1920s — promoted that very “us vs. them” belief system. The clerics were allowed by the royal family to run the educational system, enforce strict social mores within the kingdom and, especially after the revolution in Iran in 1979, finance madrassas internationally to spread its toxic worldview. Perhaps, that is why there is a cottage industry of skeptics of MbS’s mission and prospects for success.
Ironically, the skeptics are primarily outside Saudi Arabia and not in it…
The drive for change in Saudi Arabia is more credible because it is homegrown, not a response to outside pressure. It is being driven by an understanding that Saudi Arabia cannot sustain governance based on the lowest common denominator among all the factions of the royal family, the approval of the Wahhabi clerics, an economy dependent almost exclusively on oil for revenue, and 80% of Saudi households dependent on the government.
Interesting comment on Dennis Ross’s article by ali al qarni:
Dennis Ross’ piece did some justice to Saudi Arabia and its leadership and their genuine efforts to reform and modernize the country. Mr. Ross sees HRH the Crown Prince as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but we (Saudis) see him as more like his grandfather, King Abdulaziz, the founder of the most successful unification experience in modern times; the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Crown Prince is a young leader who is fully aware of the social, economic, political and technological changes around the world, and he knows what needs to be done to bring his country to the forefront of the developed world. He also knows that two-thirds of the population of his country is below the age of 30, and he further knows that this is an asset and a challenge at the same time. His vision for the country carries all the answers to a better prosperous future for the country. The young leader is working day and night focusing on the real job, which needs time and patience. It is in the interest of the US to support his efforts and make sure regional evil forces do not slow those efforts. And yes, Dennis Ross is correct when he ended by saying “MBS is a Saudi revolutionary, and the success of his policies will be felt” around the world. WaPo