As Mohammed bin Salman launched the ongoing purge of his potential rivals from the Saudi government I’ve seen a few alternative media commentators (here, here) as well as large swathes of the mainstream place it in the context of the young Saudi ruler carrying out the will of Washington and Moscow as a prerequisite for deep social and economic reform. I am not buying that.
As far as I can see, MBS speaks of reform, but his actual record is not that of a reformer, but of an incompetent, restless, power-hungry and cruel dilettante.
On the one hand he has announced the Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy away form oil, but given that the price of oil has been below the break-even point for Saudi budget for years now it’s not like he has a choice.
Moreover the reform he offers isn’t to improve business conditions and scale back spending, but merely a typical Saudi plan to throw money at the problem – in this case spending billions more of fast-diminishing cash reserves on countless state capitalism ventures and hope enough of them turn a profit.
He has also told foreign press that he will “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam“. This is hilarious. This is the guy who has continued to bankroll the jihad in Syria, is blockading and bullying Qatar to try to get it to break relations with Iran, is waging war (and starvation blockade) on Yemen on the premise it is controlled by Iran, and has promised to bring war to Iran itself.
Why would a Saudi ruler like that want a “return to moderate Islam”? If he is bent on confrontation with Iran, and he clearly is, then the insanely anti-Shia, Wahhabi fanatics are the best allies he could hope for. Why would he pick a fight with them?
Moreover, if you read bin Salman’s words closely he merely wowed to turn back the clock in Saudi Arabia 30 years, to before the Iranian Islamic revolution. So his idea of “moderate Islam” is Saudi Arabia as it was in 1979 – that is to say still more fundamentalist than any other Muslim country in the world.
He has also decreed that starting next year women will be allowed to drive but this is not worth wasting words on. By doing so Saudi Arabia merely became as socially liberal as ISIS. Plus this change was already on the cards for years, courtesy of the women activists who knowingly violated the ban to force the change.
The Washington Post has a good article that points out MBS is seen at home as incompetent and corrupt:
Even as Western governments and media outlets sing his praises, the young crown prince is viewed domestically as an incompetent and corrupt ruler who hides behind liberalism, tolerance and anti-corruption rhetoric.
This view is shared by ruling members of the monarchy, economic elites and the population at large, who see Mohammad as someone who has disturbed the status quo for the sake of massive personal enrichment and political aggrandizement.
Meanwhile Daniel Lazare of The American Conservative asks how may a man who has brought millions of men, women and children to the brink of death from starvation ever be thought of as a “moderate reformer”?:
We should be wary of accepting the “reformer” credentials of a person who has so far distinguished himself for his hubris and incompetence while compiling a record of failure and repeated violations of international law. Perhaps we could refrain from labeling the man who is helping to starve millions of people to death as a “moderate.”
MBS like many other Saudi princes before him is adept at masking his policies in positive-sounding rhetoric and “western” values, but the rhetoric conceals sinister plans and a cruel, murderous record.