On the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

I wrote this essay on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the United States for The Guardian. 

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, has arrived in Washington. Jared Kushner must be very excited!

Prince Mohammed and Kushner are said to be very close, though plotting the future of the Middle East during late-night gab sessions – behavior the two thirtysomethings have been reported to engage in – must be much harder now that Jared has been stripped of his top-secret security clearance.

But the excitement over the Saudi’s visit isn’t limited to Jared. Beginning with a splashy interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, the crown prince is in the United States to sell the American people on the idea that a new, liberalizing Saudi Arabia is dawning.

But is it true?

There is some justification for optimism. Key reforms have been promulgated, including a royal decree stating that women will be allowed to drive, beginning in June. Uber and Careem, a Dubai-based ride-booking app, have already begun recruiting female drivers. Women can now also join the military, start a business without first obtaining the permission of a male guardian, attend sporting events and retain custody rights over children after divorce more readily.

With the new General Entertainment Authority, the crown prince is also dramatically expanding the Saudi entertainment sector. There are now dance performances, comic book festivals, and monster truck festivals in the kingdom. Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed a series of concerts across the country late last year, and a 35-year ban on cinemas has ended. The government expects 300 movie theaters with 2,000 screens to open by 2030. Already, a public screening of The Emoji Movie has taken place in Jeddah. (I feel bad for Jeddah.)

With driving and entertainment on his mind, it should come as no surprise that Prince Mohammed is slated to meet with both Hollywood producers and Uber executives during his time in the United States.

And that’s the problem. While Prince Mohammed’s limited reforms are fundamentally about liberalizing the social and economic realms of Saudi Arabia, the political realm remains completely off-limits.

Read the rest here.

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