Monday, October 15, 2018
"In Dexter Filkins’s April article about the rise to power of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Filkins included a story that people tell in Riyadh. According to the story, which the Saudi Embassy denies and may be apocryphal, the prince, who is widely known as M.B.S., once “demanded that a Saudi land-registry official help him appropriate a property. After the official refused, he received an envelope with a single bullet inside. The episode earned M.B.S. the street name Abu Rasasa, or ‘father of the bullet.’ ”
The recent disappearance, and possible murder, of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has prompted a quick reappraisal of M.B.S. This weekend, my colleague Robin Wright wrote about how Western business and cultural figures who have previously participated in M.B.S.’s efforts to bolster his image as a visionary young reformer of the oil-rich kingdom have distanced themselves in response to the Khashoggi case. In the Times, Jim Rutenberg examined the media’s coverage of M.B.S., and how that’s changed, too: a number of media companies, including the Times, CNBC, and Bloomberg, have pulled out as sponsors of conference in Riyadh that was being referred to as “Davos in the Desert.”
If you’re looking for a broader view of who M.B.S. is, and the tension between the modern image he has sought to project and the ruthless tactics he has used to gain power, Wright’s past work—including this August piece about the fight M.B.S. picked with Canada—and Filkins’s article offer good places to start. Filkins, in his piece, covered everything from the workings of Saudi succession to M.B.S.’s relationship to Jared Kushner and the broader conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East.
“[A]s sweeping as M.B.S.’s economic and cultural reforms may be, he has expressed no interest in liberalizing the country’s political system,” Filkins wrote. “Indeed, the model that seems to best conform to his vision is China, with its dynamic economy, literate population, and authoritarian rule. Experts on the Saudi system, including those who admire M.B.S., say that his efforts are being carried out with one overriding goal: to preserve the House of Saud.”
Last week, Filkins spoke about Khashoggi’s disappearance with The New Yorker’s Dorothy Wickenden, on the Politics and More podcast. Khashoggi was among the people quoted in Filkins’s piece in April. “He can do whatever he wants now,” Khashoggi said, speaking of M.B.S. “All the checks and balances are gone.”
A Broader View of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman | The New Yorker