The Folly of MBS
Saudi Arabia's Western partners and allies have long hoped that the Kingdom would embrace modernization, which is why they rolled out the red carpet for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But with the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the true nature of the Saudi regime can no longer be denied.
PARIS – What should come first in international politics: values or interests? For the West, this dilemma has been thrown into sharp relief by the murder of the self-exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of a Saudi death squad in Turkey. Saudi Arabia, after all, is a major purchaser of Western arms, a leading oil producer, and a crucial asset for confronting and containing Iran. Moreover, the Kingdom is a key player in an ongoing power struggle in the Islamic world. And, until Khashoggi’s murder, it had appeared to be on a path toward serious reform.
In 1979, the Islamic Revolution that triumphed in Iran failed in Saudi Arabia. For two weeks in November and December of that year, a group of armed zealots seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Islam’s holiest site) and called for the overthrow of the Saudi government. Ultimately, they were overpowered by the Saudi military. But the episode left the Saudi leadership far more inclined to compromise with, and even directly assist, Islamist radicals and extremists.
Then came June 2017, when Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was suddenly named crown prince and heir apparent to the Saudi throne. To many observers, Saudi Arabia finally seemed to have a leader who would confront the entrenched interests that had long prevented the country from modernizing. Western countries, and particularly the United States, had been waiting for decades to see such a shift in the Kingdom’s politics.
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