In what appears to be a cringe-worthy PR attempt on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Dennis Ross, an American diplomat, has penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post in which he calls Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman a "revolutionary."
Ross, who has served in senior national security positions for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, raved about how reforms under bin Salman are bringing about "credible" changes.
“The drive for change in Saudi Arabia is more credible because it is homegrown, not a response to outside pressure,” Ross wrote.
“’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."
Now, the part where Ross mentions the drive for change is somewhat accurate. Under bin Salman's watch, the conservative kingdom has indeed gone through some historic, progressive, changes. For instance, more Saudi women are joining the workforce and soon they will be allowed to drive, in a first for the country. It is part of the crown prince's Vision 2030 — a blueprint to move the Saudi economy less dependent on and, eventually, away from oil.
While welcoming, the reforms appear to be rather cosmetic, considering a number of other events that have been unfolding concurrently.
Take the situation of human rights in the country, for example. Women might be able to take the wheel in June, but human rights activists are still being jailed for voicing their opinions. Just recently, a cleric was put in solitary because his tweet did not align with the Saudi government's policies. Secular blogger Raif al-Badawi is still behind bars after five years.
Bin Salman's latest purge of Saudi royals, ministers and businessmen, which was meant to be an anti-corruption drive, turned out to be more an attempt by the Saudi government to rake in cash. Almost all the detainees, who were arrested over ill-gotten wealth, were released in exchange for money and/or assets.
Also, as defense minister, bin Salman also led Saudi Arabia into a major war in March 2015 in Yemen, which has led to devastation and massive loss of civilian life. The brutal campaign of airstrikes has killed 10,000 people, as of December 2017, and over 8 million people — one-third of the Yemeni population — are teetering on the brink of famine.
Bin Salman might be trying to reform Saudi Arabia's economy but he is certainly not a "revolutionary."
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters