Mohammed Bin Salman And Saudi Arabia

interview with Russell A. Berman, Ben Hubbard
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Caravan Notebook Podcast

Ben Hubbard is the New York Times bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, and author of MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed Bin Salman (2020), a biography of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The conversation treats the Crown Prince's rise to power in the context of a Saudi Arabia marked by deeply conservative cultural formations and at the same time a very young population well connected to modern social media and the cultural products of the West. MBS has promoted reforms in Saudi society, not only by trying to move the economy away from its dependency on oil, but also through some dramatic cultural changes, especially by limiting the role of the religious police, by expanding women's rights and by developing access to forms of previously excluded popular entertainment (cinema, music). Yet these changes are taking place in the context of an absolute monarchy, and the reforms have been carried out with authoritarian power. This tension between liberalization and monarchical power characterizes the current moment in Saudi Arabia; the limits to reform are especially evident in the constraints on public criticism and freedom of the press, as became brutally clear in the case of the assassinated journalist, Jamal Kashoggi. The discussion also addresses the 2017 incident involving the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, as an example of MBS's political inclinations but also in light of Hariri's recent 2021 stepping back from forming a government in Beirut.

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