Saudi Crown Prince: We will expel Muslim Brotherhood from our schools

Time: March 19, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered a strong defenses of his economic and social reforms in the Kingdom in his first interview with an American television broadcaster, vowing to continue a trans-formative agenda that “only death” can barricade.
In a wide-ranging interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes aired on Sunday night, Prince Mohammed, 32, offered a new vision for Saudi Arabia that turns the page on the harsh interpretation of Islam practice in the Kingdom since 1979. He called citizens of his generation “victims” that “suffered from this a great deal”.

The Saudi Crown Prince was particularly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, of extremism and the schism with the West created by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden through the orchestration of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Asked by journalist Norah O’Donnell about education reforms in the country toward espousing a more moderate form and curriculum about Islam, the Saudi Crown prince said: “Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, surely to a great extent.”

“Even now, there are some elements left. It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely.”

He added that “no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group”.

The counter-extremism push was vivid in how he approached the subject of women’s rights. The Crown Prince, who last year ended a ban on women driving, reopened cinemas and allowed families and women to attend sports stadiums, spoke in sentimental terms about Saudi Arabia pre-1979.

“We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars,” he explained. “There were movie theatres in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.”

1979 was a seminal year for the region, with the Islamic revolution in Iran and the siege of Makkah in Saudi Arabia. Both events triggered a hard turn to the religious right in the Kingdom.

“We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a work place” the Saudi leader told CBS. “Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet and the Caliphs.”

Prince Mohammed embraced a Saudi woman’s right to wear “what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear”.

He said: “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover.”

Ritz-Carlton

The Saudi Crown Prince defended the Ritz-Carlton hotel arrests of princes, high-ranking ministers and businessmen that were made between November and February in an anti-corruption campaign. “What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary. All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.”

He said the money that the government restored, exceeded US$100 billion (Dh367bn). “But the real objective was not this amount or any other amount… but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law.”

Asked about his personal fortune, he said: “As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family… we own very large lots of land, and my personal life is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity.”

The Crown Prince said he spends 51 per cent of his fortune on people and 49 per cent on himself.

Foreign policy

The foreign policy part of the CBS interview was mostly focused on Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition is engaged in a war against the Iran-backed Houthi militias, and the country has suffered civil war since 2015.

Asked about the humanitarian toll, Prince Mohammed said: “It is truly very painful, and I hope that this militia [Houthis] ceases using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.”

He said that the “Iranian ideology penetrated some parts of Yemen” and justified Saudi Arabia’s military involvement. “I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington DC, New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing” he said.

Prince Mohammed said Iran played a destructive role in Yemen. “The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States” he said, accusing Iran of harboring the son of Osama bin Laden. “He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.”

In comments aired before the interview, the Saudi Crown Prince stood by his comparison of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler.

He said: “Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy.”

On a more personal side on what he learned from his father King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Prince Mohammed cited the love of history. “The King always says, ‘If you read the history of a thousand years, you have the experience of a thousand years.’”

Asked if he would run the country for 50 years or if anything could prevent him, Saudi’s Crown Prince answered in two words: “Only death”.

Prince Mohammed is due to arrive in the United States on an official visit on Monday. He will meet President Donald Trump on Tuesday, and convene with senior cabinet members of the administration as well as Congressional leaders in Washington. Later in the week he will head to Boston, then New York, then the West Coast (Washington State and California), where he will meet the leaders of tech and film industries. The Saudi Crown Prince is expected to end his two-and-half-week long trip in Houston, Texas.

This article was first published in The National

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Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne talks to 60 Minutes

Time:  March 19, 2018

At 32 years old, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is already the most dominant Arab leader in a generation. This week, he embarks on a cross-country American tour, where he’ll pitch his kingdom to a skeptical U.S. public. He was named heir to the throne nine months ago by his 82-year-old father, King Salman, who granted his son vast new powers.

Known by his initials — “M-B-S” — his reforms inside Saudi Arabia have been revolutionary. He is emancipating women, introducing music and cinema and cracking down on corruption, in a land with 15,000 princes. But selling Saudi Arabia won’t be easy. In his first interview with an American television network, he was eager to discuss his country’s promise and its troubled reputation head-on.

Norah O’Donnell: When many Americans think about Saudi Arabia, they think about Osama bin Laden and 9/11. They think about the terrorism that he brought to American soil.

Mohammed bin Salman: Right. Osama bin Laden recruited 15 Saudis in the 9/11 attacks with a clear objective. According to the CIA documents and Congressional investigations, Osama bin Laden wanted to create a schism between the Middle East and the West, between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America.

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Norah O’Donnell: Why did Osama bin Laden wanna create that hatred between the West and Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: In order to create an environment conducive to recruitment and spreading his radical message that the west is plotting to destroy you. Indeed he succeeded in creating this schism in the west.

Norah O’Donnell: And how do you change that? Because it looks like what you’re trying to do is change things here at home.

Mohammed bin Salman: Indeed. I believe that we have succeeded in many respects in the last three years.

We first met Prince Mohammed at the Royal Court in Riyadh. He arrived in a driving rain, a sign of good fortune in the desert kingdom. He’s been called bold and visionary for his reforms at home, as well as reckless and impulsive in his rise to power. He has kicked a hornet’s nest in the Middle East and earned a host of new enemies, partly why he’s one of the most heavily-guarded men in the world. This is the office where he starts his days.

Norah O’Donnell: Working hard?

Mohammed bin Salman in English:  Always.

He learned English from watching movies as a kid. And he’s acutely aware that 70 percent of the population is like him, under the age of 35 – and getting restless.

Norah O’Donnell: What’s been the biggest challenge?

Mohammed bin Salman in English: There’s a lot of challenge. I think the first big challenge that we have is do the people believe in what we are doing.

Norah O’Donnell: There is a widespread perception that the kind of Islam practiced inside Arabia is harsh, it’s strict, it’s intolerant. Is there any truth to that?

Mohammed bin Salman: After 1979, that’s true. We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal.

The crown prince traces most of Saudi Arabia’s problems to the year 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini established an Islamic theocracy next door in Iran. The same year, religious extremists in Saudi Arabia took over Islam’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In order to appease their own religious radicals, the Saudis began clamping down and segregating women from everyday life.

Norah O’Donnell: What has been this Saudi Arabia for the past 40 years? Is that the real Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely not. This is not the real Saudi Arabia. I would ask your viewers to use their smartphones to find out. And they can google Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 60s, and they will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures.

Norah O’Donnell: What was Saudi Arabia like before 1979?

Mohammed bin Salman: We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.

Saudi women — who’ve been virtually invisible in public — have been given new rights, making it easier for them to start a business, join the military, and attend concerts and sporting events. In June, they will be able to get behind the wheel and drive.

Norah O’Donnell: Are women equal to men?

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference.

Norah O’Donnell: You have said you are, “Taking Saudi Arabia back to what we were, a moderate Islam.” What does that mean?

Mohammed bin Salman: We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a workplace. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the prophet and the Caliphs. This is the real example and the true model.

He has curbed the powers of the country’s so-called “religious police,” who until recently were able to arrest women for not covering up. And listen carefully to what he says is not part of Islamic Law.

Mohammed bin Salman: The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.

His words are significant, and so far, the kingdom’s religious leaders are holding their tongues, and have sworn allegiance to the young prince.

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Of all of the meetings he presides over every week, this is the most important: his economic council.  These are the men, and a few women, trusted with re-making Saudi Arabia’s “social pact” with its people. One of the crown prince’s closest advisers is Mohammed al-Sheikh, a Saudi-born, Harvard-trained lawyer.

Mohammed al-Sheikh: We had a young population. And we were providing for the population, you know subsidized energy, subsidized water, subsidized medicine, subsidized education, we subsidized everybody’s life.

Norah O’Donnell: And no taxes.

Mohammed al-Sheikh: And no taxes.

Norah O’Donnell: How close was Saudi Arabia to a financial crisis?

Mohammed al-Sheikh: I don’t think it was extremely close, but it was heading in that direction.

Reforming the welfare state is one challenge. Another is what the crown prince calls Saudi Arabia’s “addiction” to oil. The state oil company, Aramco, is valued at $2 trillion. Under the crown prince’s plan, some of it will be sold off to invest in new ventures. There are concerns that the kingdom’s secretive finances and dismal record on human rights may spook investors.

Norah O’Donnell: You have promised transparency and openness. But there are reports that dozens of people who have criticized your government have been arrested in the last year. They include economists, clerics, intellectuals. Is this really an open and free society?

Mohammed bin Salman: We will try to publicize as much as we can and as fast as we can, information about these individuals in order to make the world aware of what the government of Saudi Arabia is doing to combat radicalism.

Norah O’Donnell: But to answer the question about human rights abuses in this country.

Mohammed bin Salman: Saudi Arabia believes in many of the principles of human rights. In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I don’t want to say that we don’t have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings.

But the crown prince has been accused of heavy-handed tactics. The most extraordinary example happened last November, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. He invited hundreds of current and former government ministers, media moguls, prominent businessmen, and at least 11 princes to a meeting here, where they were accused of stealing from the state and were held until they either paid it back or proved their innocence.

Norah O’Donnell: I mean, what happened at the Ritz-Carlton? How did that work? You were, essentially, the Ritz-Carlton became a jail.

Mohammed bin Salman: What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary. All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.

Among the detained was Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — one of the richest men in the world. After Prince Alwaleed was detained for more than two months, the Saudis allowed a camera crew inside his room at the Ritz for a brief interview.

Prince Alwaleed: And I’d like to stay here until this thing’s over completely and get out and life goes on.

Mohammed al-Sheikh said the crackdown was necessary.  

Mohammed al-Sheikh: It wasn’t easy. Just given the names and given the people who were involved, it really wasn’t easy. But we– we just felt that we had to do this. And and we had to do it that way.

Norah O’Donnell: What kinda corruption are we talking about? I mean, how much money was disappearing?

Mohammed al-Sheikh: Probably 5 to 10 percent of the annual spend by the government, which was roughly, I would say anywhere between $10-20 billion, maybe even more, on an annual basis.

Norah O’Donnell: So $20 billion a year is just disappearing?

Mohammed al-Sheikh: Disappearing.

There have been reports that some detainees were physically abused, and one died in custody. The Saudis told us the choice of the hotel, “was to maintain the respect, dignity and… comfort for those being investigated.”

Norah O’Donnell: Was it a power grab?

Mohammed bin Salman: If I have the power and the king has the power to take action against influential people, then you are already fundamentally strong. These are naïve accusations.

Norah O’Donnell: How much money did you get back?

Mohammed bin Salman: The amount exceeds $100 billion, but the real objective was not this amount or any other amount. The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law.

Norah O’Donnell: Is this also about sending a message that, as we say in America, there’s a new sheriff in town?

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely. Absolutely.

“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

But while the “new sheriff” is cracking down on corruption, there are questions about his own fortune. The New York Times reports he recently purchased a yacht for a half-billion dollars, along with a French chateau.

Mohammed bin Salman: My personal life is something I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it. If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them. As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia. We own very large lots of land, and my personal life is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity. I spend at least 51% on people and 49 on myself.

Among the prince’s official titles is “minister of defense.” And this is where his apparent fixation on Iran has led him into a quagmire in neighboring Yemen.

Mohammed bin Salman: The Iranian ideology penetrated some parts of Yemen. During that time, this militia was conducting military maneuvers right next to our borders and positioning missiles at our borders.

His response was to launch a bombing campaign that’s led to a humanitarian disaster, as we reported on 60 Minutes last fall. He says Iranian-backed rebels have used the country to fire missiles at Riyadh.

Mohammed bin Salman: I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington D.C., New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing.

The United Nations says thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen are the direct result of Saudi airstrikes and a blockade, since lifted, of Yemen’s port that temporarily stopped food and medicine from getting to hundreds of thousands of people.

Norah O’Donnell: Do you acknowledge that it has been a humanitarian catastrophe, 5,000 civilians killed and children starving there?

Mohammed bin Salman: It is truly very painful, and I hope that this militia ceases using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.

Norah O’Donnell: Is what’s happening in Yemen, essentially, a proxy war with Iran?

Mohammed bin Salman: Unfortunately, Iran is playing a harmful role. The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al-Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States. This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al-Qaeda. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with contributor Norah O’Donnell

It’s worth noting that Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran both claim to represent the one true branch of Islam.

Norah O’Donnell: At its heart, what is this rift about? Is it a battle for Islam?

Mohammed bin Salman: Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy.  Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.

Norah O’Donnell: But I’ve seen that you called the Ayatollah, Khamenei, “the new Hitler” of the Middle East.

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely.

Norah O’Donnell: Why?

Mohammed bin Salman: Because he wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.

Norah O’Donnell: Does Saudi Arabia need nuclear weapons to counter Iran?

Mohammed bin Salman: Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.

 

A note from 60 Minutes: Our story “Heir to the Throne” has many authors. The ten-person team that traveled to Saudi Arabia for approximately a week included correspondent Norah O’Donnell, who carried with her a long-held fascination for the region. Also on our team: producers Graham Messick and Vanessa Fica, who began working on the assignment more than two years ago at the request of the story’s original producer, Harry A. Radliffe II, before he passed away of cancer at age 66.

Radliffe was 60 Minutes’ resident expert on politics, religion, and history in the Middle East. Well-traveled and passionately curious, Harry would say about a 60 Minutes segment on Saudi Arabia: “If that ain’t a story, I don’t know what is.” Radliffe was known for taking his time with stories like this; he knew that some day, the Saudi royal family would – at long last — give its go-ahead. Sadly, that day came after Harry’s passing, but we are so glad to have carried on his vision.

Also on the team that made this story possible: associate producer Jack Weingart, Middle East producer Amjad Tadros, photographers Jonathan Partridge and Mark La Ganga, audio engineers Anton Van der Merwe and Matt Magratten, and editors Dan Glucksman and Craig Crawford. Jeff Fager, Radliffe’s close friend and the executive producer of 60 Minutes, had final say over the story and personally assured two Saudi princes that we would be fair and accurate and allow the crown prince to tell his story if he let us. We are glad he did.


Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman outmaneuvered uncles, cousins and half-brothers to become the power behind the throne of his aging father, King Salman. Since then, this royal upstart has been remaking Saudi society— out of both social and economic necessity. The vast majority of the kingdom’s citizens are under 30 — connected to the world at large through their cell phones. Just as important, oil is no longer a predictable source of revenue, meaning the cradle-to-grave healthcare, education and other services that have been the birthright of every Saudi citizen, are imperiled. It’s a combustible mix for a brash leader in a dangerous part of the world. But, the heir to the throne seems eager for the challenge.

Norah O’Donnell: Oh, this is where you spend all night?

Mohammed bin Salman in EnglishMostly. So all of the workaholic ministers used to spend most of their nights in this, in these offices. So, I’m sorry if it’s a little bit lousy.

Norah O’Donnell: This is not a lousy office.

He spends most evenings in Riyadh’s Irgah Palace, where he dispenses with the traditional Saudi headscarf.

Norah O’Donnell: And so what time in the morning are you here till working?

Mohammed bin Salman in English: Oh, I come here, at, like afternoon till late night.

We’re told his 82-year-old father, King Salman, is somewhere upstairs, leaving most of the day-to-day work to his son. He escorted us at 9 p.m. into a meeting about the public investment fund.

Under Prince Mohammed’s detailed plan to remake Saudi Arabia – called “Vision 2030” – the public investment fund will eventually grow to $2 trillion. The men in this room are talking about how to invest it. They recently sank three and a half billion dollars into Uber. If bets like that pay off, it will be dividends, not oil revenues, pouring into the Saudi treasury.

Princess Reema: This man spend 24 hours a day working towards this vision.

Princess Reema bint Bandar is the crown prince’s cousin and he chose her to lead one of the government sports authorities.

Norah O’Donnell: You were surprised by the pace with which he’s doing stuff.

Princess Reema: I’m not surprised by the pace. I’m surprised by how detailed the pace is. We are not a community that’s used to somebody saying, “Tuesday, the 5th of November, I want to see X.” That kind of means yes, maybe, inshallah.

Norah O’Donnell: God willing.

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leads a meeting

Princess Reema: There is actually a tracking system that we all monthly update. What’s our progress? How have we hit our numbers? We are working and operating like a private sector. And that’s new.

To a visitor, it doesn’t look like that much has changed. Single men in crisp white robes and women dressed entirely in black, keep their distance from one another. Female visitors still feel obligated to wear the traditional Abaya in public… but no longer the headscarf. At this Starbucks, men sit in one section – women and families just beyond the wooden partition.

It was difficult to get people – especially women – to talk on camera about the crown prince’s reforms. This man urged caution.

Abdul Rahman: I like the change that is gradual. We don’t wanna move too fast and pay a heavy price.

Norah O’Donnell: In other words, you think that the crown prince has to be very careful about the pace?

Abdul Rahman: Exactly.

Saudi Arabia still adheres to an ancient power-sharing arrangement between the House of Saud and Wahhabi Islam, the strict, predominant faith in Saudi Arabia. But the crown prince told us it is not his religion, but extremists within Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, that have infiltrated Saudi society, including its schools.

Norah O’Donnell: Are you looking at the schooling and the education in Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, surely to a great extent. Even now, there are some elements left.  It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely.

Norah O’Donnell: You say you’re going to eradicate this extremism in the education system here?

Mohammed bin Salman: Of course, no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group.

The crown prince represents the vast majority of the Saudi people – who are overwhelmingly young, restless, and connected to just about everything through their cell phones. They see a kindred spirit in their new iPad-addicted leader.

Norah O’Donnell: Most of the young women that I met are all on Snapchat. They were asking me to join them on Snapchat. This is this is changing this entire culture.

Mohammed bin Salman: I can’t claim that I played a role in this. Saudi citizens have always been open to social media and technology.

Young Saudis we talked to at this trendy pop-up burger joint say they are still careful about what they post on Twitter and Instagram, which is why members of the opposite sex connect via private messaging apps like Snapchat and Whatsapp.

Norah O’Donnell: Social media.

MALE #1: It’s huge in Saudi Arabia.

MALE #2: This is our escape, yes.

Norah O’Donnell: The phone is your escape?

MALE VOICE: Yes. Social media is.

The crown prince has more pressing concerns, only 22 percent of Saudi women work, and he wants to encourage more to join the workforce.

Mohammed bin Salman: We are working on an initiative, which we will launch in the near future, to introduce regulations ensuring equal pay for men and women.

Norah O’Donnell: But you’re talking about equal pay. Women can’t even drive in this country. This is the last, last place in the world that women don’t have the rights to drive.

Mohammed bin Salman: This is no longer an issue. Today, driving schools have been established and will open soon. In a few months, women will drive in Saudi Arabia. We are finally over that painful period that we cannot justify.

Norah O’Donnell: Certainly, most people hear about the rule that will allow women to drive in June. But there have also existed these guardianship laws that, in order to travel, a woman has to get the permission of a male in her household. It seems so throwback.

Mohammed bin Salman:  Today, Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don’t have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go.

He wanted us to see this driving school, at Princess Nourah University, the largest all women’s university in the world. The school is preparing to teach 70,000 women how to drive.

These trainers will put women through classes and simulators before having them hit the road.

Norah O’Donnell: How do you get to work or school now?

WOMAN #1: For me, I have a driver. Or, like, my dad or my brother.

WOMAN #2: Driving is just a quick win. It’s not everything. It’s just representative that we’re going in the right direction. It’s progress. The trajectory now is just going forward and not backwards.

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Norah O’Donnell: You are witnessing history?

WOMEN: (OVERTALK) Yes. Exactly. We are glad to be part of this history.

Princess Reema is also helping make history – she recently opened the gates for Saudi women to attend soccer matches.

Norah O’Donnell: I mean, it was just in 2015 that a Saudi woman was arrested trying to go to a game.

Princess Reema: Yes. Yes. And you know what? I’m proud to say that I was at the first game where that’s no longer a reality. How sensational is that to say in two years? In two years the arc has changed.

Norah O’Donnell: People have asked me for my impressions and there’s so much that’s modern, in terms of infrastructure and American restaurants. But it is still interesting to see that single men eat in one part of the restaurant. And families and women in another.

Princess Reema: Correct.

Norah O’Donnell: It’s segregated.

Princess Reema: It is viewed here as the preservation of the privacy of the personal space of the woman. If it comes out to being viewed internationally as disrespectful, that’s not the intention. Does it end up sometimes causing obstacles? Yes. But the intent is not disrespect.

Norah O’Donnell: Do you think Mohammed bin Salman is prepared to take the throne?

Princess Reema: I don’t think anyone is ever prepared. I think since he was 18 years old he has been groomed for leadership.

His ascension would mark a generational power shift. It was his grandfather, King Abdulaziz, who founded modern Saudi Arabia, and was succeeded by six sons, including the current king, King Salman. The crown prince grew up by his father’s side, learning and biding his time.

Norah O’Donnell: What did you learn from your father?

Mohammed bin Salman: Many, many things. He loves history very much. He is an avid reader of history. Each week, he would assign each one of us a book. And at the end of the week, he would ask us about the content of that book. The king always says, “If you read the history of a thousand years, you have the experience of a thousand years.”

Mohammed bin Salman is trying to keep pace with a population that’s become as familiar with American celebrity culture as they are with the tales of the Prophet Muhammad in the birthplace of Islam.  Just as American society transformed during the 1960’s, the Saudis are in the midst of their own cultural revolution. The kingdom, the Middle East, and the Islamic world may never be the same.

Norah O’Donnell: You’re 32 years old. You could rule this country for the next 50 years.

Mohammed bin Salman: Only God knows how long one will live, if one would live 50 years or not, but if things go their normal ways, then that’s to be expected.

Norah O’Donnell: Can anything stop you?

Mohammed bin Salman: Only death.

This article was first published CBS NEWS

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Anti-corruption purge was ‘extremely necessary’, says Saudi Crown Prince

Time: March 19, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge was “extremely necessary” to send a clear message to others in the kingdom, according to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary,” the Crown Prince told CBS 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast on Sunday night. “All actions were taken in accordance with existing laws and published laws.”

In the same segment, one of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisors, Harvard-educated lawyer Mohammed Al Sheikh, estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of funds spent by the government each year – between $10 and $20 billion – were disappearing due to corruption.

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One of the crown prince’s most trusted advisors, Saudi-born, Harvard-trained lawyer Mohammed al-Sheikh says detaining the accused was necessary.

“But the real objective was not this amount or any other amount,” he added. “The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law.”

Prince Mohammed rejected accusations that the anti-corruption purge was a power grab against his political rivals inside Saudi Arabia.

“If I have the power and the king has the power to take action against influential people, then you are already fundamentally strong,” he said. “These are naïve accusations.”

Prince Mohammed also addressed questions about his personal wealth, following media reports that he allegedly purchased a half billion dollar yacht, a chateau in the French Alps for over $300 million, and a Leonardo Da Vinci painting for $450 million.

60 Minutes

@60Minutes

Mohammed bin Salman is trying to keep pace with a population that’s as familiar with American celebrity culture as they are with the tales of the Prophet Muhammad. The Saudis are in the midst of their own cultural revolution.

“My personal life is something that I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it,” he said. “If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them.

“I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” he added. “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”

According to Prince Mohammed, 51 percent of his personal income is spent on other people, and on charity.

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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Saudi Crown Prince, in His Own Words: Women Are ‘Absolutely’ Equal

Time: March 18, 2018
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” he said, “I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” adding, “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”CreditDan Kitwood/Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The powerful crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, 32, arrives in the United States on Monday for an extended visit during which he is scheduled to meet President Trump and tour a number of American cities.

Among his trip’s goals: selling Americans on his sweeping plans to reform the economic and social life of the kingdom — and to get American investors to put money into them.

On Sunday, “60 Minutes,” the CBS News program, aired an episode about the prince and where he hopes to take Saudi Arabia. The quotations below were taken from a transcript provided to The New York Times.

On Islam

Prince Mohammed acknowledged that Saudi Arabia has been dominated by an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam that was wary of non-Muslims, deprived women of basic rights and constricted social life by banning movie theaters and music.

“We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal,” he said of the wave of conservatism that spread through the kingdom after 1979.

He has pushed to expand entertainment options and promised to let women drive in June.

On Women’s Rights

When asked if women were equal to men, Prince Mohammed said: “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference.”

His rise to power has been accompanied by a loosening of restrictions on women’s dress and an expansion of their role in the work force. He said the government was working on regulations to ensure equal pay.

But women in Saudi Arabia are still bound by so-called guardianship laws that give male relatives control over aspects of their lives, like their ability to travel abroad and undergo certain medical procedures.

On Purge of Princes

Prince Mohammed defended the recent jailing of more than 380 princes, businessmen and former government ministers in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh as part of a campaign to stamp out corruption.

“What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary,” Prince Mohammed said of the arrests. “All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.”

Relatives and associates of the detained said that many were subjected to coercive tactics and physical abuse to get them to sign assets over to the state. One detainee died, his body showing signs of mistreatment.

The Saudi government denies that any abuse took place.

On His Wealth

Prince Mohammed has been criticized for lavish personal spending at a time when he is imposing new taxes on Saudi citizens and preaching fiscal responsibility. In recent years, he bought a yacht for a half-billion dollars, a French chateau for more than $300 million and a painting for $450 million.

In the interview, Prince Mohammed said his private spending was his business.

“As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” he said. “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”

On Becoming King

Prince Mohammed is expected to ascend to the throne after his father, King Salman, dies. If that happens, given his young age, he could rule Saudi Arabia for 50 years.

This article was first published The New York Times

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Saudi Arabia’s Google talks prove Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is the most powerful leader in the Middle East

SOURCE: CNBC

Time: 01 February, 2018

 

  • Google and Amazon are reportedly in advanced talks with Saudi Arabia to build a tech hub in that country.
  • This is the result of seven months of swift reforms in Saudi Arabia that began under Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
  • It’s not only proof that bin Salman’s reforms have worked, but also that he is now the most powerful man in the entire Middle East.

Reports surfaced Thursday that Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy company, and Google parent Alphabet have reportedly entered discussions to create a technology hub in Saudi Arabia.

This news is the latest and perhaps the most solid evidence that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is not only the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia, and not only the most powerful leader in Sunni Islam, he is now clearly the most powerful man in the entire Middle East.

That’s because he’s not only gained more control over his own country but doing so has made Saudi Arabia more powerful both politically and financially.

It’s been just seven months since his reportedly ailing father King Salman effectively handed control of the country to him by naming him crown prince. Since then, the 32-year-old bin Salman has run full speed with his three-part plan to strengthen the country. Part one was shoring up Saudi defenses against Iran, which he accomplished in many ways but most notably by entering into a more solid partnership with Israel.

Step two was a major series of cultural reforms that included purging anti-American and anti-Jewish clerics and granting more rights for women.

“Crown Prince bin Salman is being rewarded for his actions. The U.S. is rewarding him. Israel is rewarding him. Now, two of the richest corporations in the world are poised to do the same.”

Step three was more controversial. That was the crown prince’s plan to improve the nation’s finances and send an anti-corruption message by detaining without trial about 200 of his fellow princes and government officials at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton.

That group included the richest man in the Middle East, his cousin and fellow prince, Alwaleed bin Talal. But the operation has come to an apparently peaceful and lucrative end with many billions of dollars turned over to the government by the detainees in return for their release.

All of this has happened with no apparent protest and no reported violent outbursts. Compare that with the massive protests that engulfed Iran just a few weeks ago.

Now, the Alphabet/Google talks with the Saudis, as well as a separate deal for three data centers with Amazon, are taking the crown prince’s successes to a new level. It’s the first proof that his efforts to diversify his nation’s economy from being solely dependent on oil aren’t such a long shot after all.

Of course, these talks with America’s tech titans would not have been possible without all the major moves bin Salman made first. Improving the nation’s security, finances, rights for women, and toning down its worst Islamist rhetoric go a long way to making the kingdom a more attractive place to invest.

But look at the bigger picture. Sure, Saudi Arabia still doesn’t have the strongest military, and it still doesn’t have a very large population. It’s also still backing the government in Yemen against an Iranian-sponsored revolt. None of that has stopped Saudi Arabia from continuing to have the biggest GDP in the Middle East, the most allies in the region and the power of rising oil prices to boot.

So, finally, we understand the purpose of all the crown prince’s sweeping moves since June. They’re not just about stepping up militarily to deter Iran’s ambitions in the region. Now we know it’s about finding a way to make an impressive form of foreign investment in Saudi Arabia more possible.

There are other Middle Eastern leaders with autocratic power who would like to do the same thing. But they don’t have the money, the powerful friends, or true support from their own populations that bin Salman clearly has.

Imagine if the mullahs in Iran used their power to achieve these kinds of goals instead of being the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, launching proxy wars all over the region, and granting fewer rights to their own people. Imagine if the leaders of Syria and Egypt did something like this 40 or 50 years ago instead of obsessing and warring with Israel.

Saudi Arabia was just about as guilty as its peers of being similarly misdirected in favor of Wahhabist Islamism and other counterproductive nonsense for decades. But now it has a leader who has a better and clearer focus.

Yes, that detention of his peers at the Riyadh Ritz was disturbing in many ways. But it’s hard to make a lack of due process a deal breaker in the neighborhood where we see Iran’s brutal domestic repression or aSyrian civil war that’s claimed almost half a million lives.

Crown Prince bin Salman is being rewarded for his actions. The U.S. is rewarding him. Israel is rewarding him. Now, two of the richest corporations in the world are poised to do the same.

And all that will do is make him even more powerful. Hopefully, this kind of positive reinforcement will encourage other leaders in the Middle East to follow his lead.

This article was first published in CNBC

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Saudi crown prince says anti-corruption drive is essential for the Kingdom’s reputation

Time: January 21, 2018

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has dismissed claims that the anti-corruption drive in the Kingdom, which led to the arrest of several prominent royals, was a power grab, saying such comments were “ludicrous.”
He added that the public prosecutor believed the amount of funds that could eventually be recovered could amount to $100 billion.
The crown prince told the New York Times that many of those being held in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton had pledged allegiance to him and the proposed reforms.
Adding that he also had the support of most key royals, he said: “Our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom. Over the years the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up.”
He said when his father King Salman, who was clear of any corruption charges, came to power, they decided it was time to put an end to the problems tarnishing the country’s reputation.
“My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption — at the top,” the crown prince said.
He added that the team took two years to piece together the “most accurate information,” which finally led to the production of a list of 200 names.
Each of the billionaires and princes accused of corruption was arrested, presented with the evidence and given the choice to come clean, the crown prince said.
He added that about 95 percent agreed to settle, signing over cash or shares in their businesses to the Saudi State Treasury.
The crown prince said a further 1 percent were able to prove their innocence, while the remaining 4 percent insisted they were not corrupt and wanted to go to court with their lawyers.
He said it was not possible to get rid of all corruption, but the current drive would send a signal that there is no escape.
Asked about his recent comments about moving Saudi Arabia to a more moderate and tolerant form of Islam, he said: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and (daily life in) Saudi Arabia before 1979.”
During this time, he explained, the Kingdom had musical theaters, men and women mixing, and respect for Christians and Jews. He added that the first commercial judge in Madinah was a woman.
The crown prince praised US President Donald Trump, describing him as “the right person at the right time.”
He said Saudi Arabia is slowly building a coalition with its allies to “stand up to Iran.”
The crown prince said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the “new Hitler of the Middle East,” adding: “But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
Asked why he was implementing reforms at such a determined pace, he replied: “I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind.”
He said life is too short, but he is determined to make change happen in his lifetime.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi crown prince pledges return to moderate Islam, in powerful rebuke to strict clerics

SOURCE: South China Morning Post

‘We want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness’

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pledged to make his country “moderate, open”, breaking with ultra-conservative clerics in favour of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth.

The Saudi strongman, 32, did not mince words on Tuesday in declaring a new reality for the kingdom, hours after announcing the launch of an independent $500 billion megacity – with “separate regulation” – along the Red Sea coastline.

“We want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness,” he told international investors gathered at an economic forum in Riyadh.

“Seventy per cent of the Saudi population is under 30, and honestly we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today and at once,” the crown prince said.

It’s the latest surprise move by Saudi Arabia, a country that for decades was characterised by slow, cautious reforms, bureaucratic red tape and promises that fell short of target. The kingdom was forced to spring into action nearly three years ago after global energy prices fell by more than half, threatening to deplete Saudi foreign reserves and spending power by 2020.

Now, the kingdom is on a mission to build the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund to invest in projects like the new megacity, dubbed Neom.

The city will run entirely on alternative energy and will serve as an innovation hub.

The aim is diversify revenue away from oil exports and create more jobs under a plan spearheaded by the crown prince known as Vision 2030.

We are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam
SAUDI CROWN PRINCE MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN

No reform, however, was more disruptive to the old order than last month’s decision to lift the ban on women driving next summer. Saudi Arabia is also expected to bring back cinemas soon as it opens the ultraconservative country to more entertainment.

Prince Mohammed defended these reforms at the conference on Tuesday, saying “we were not like this in the past.”

The heir to the throne said the kingdom will work to defeat extremist ideas and ensure that young Saudis live in harmony with the rest of the world.

One of the Saudi millennials in attendance was Abdul Aziz, a 27-year-old policy consultant.

He lauded the young prince for “pushing the boundaries of what’s possible” in the rigid kingdom and for using the televised speech to highlight what he sees as an abandoned legacy of moderation.

“It showed the political and social change in Saudi Arabia is not a transformation. Saudi Arabia is going back to its original roots of a moderate Islam, a tolerant society,” Abdul Aziz said.

Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS, said he would see to it his country moved past 1979, a reference to the rise of political Islam in the years following the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.

The early 1970s had ushered major change into the oil-rich kingdom, including the introduction of television and schools for girls.

But that came to a halt as the Al-Sheikh family, which controls religious and social regulation in the kingdom, and the ruling Al-Saud family slowly reinforced the conservative policies Riyadh is known for.

Prince Mohammed’s statement Tuesday is the most direct attack by a Saudi official on the Gulf country’s influential conservative religious circles, whose stranglehold on Saudi society now appears to face serious challenges.

“We are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe,” he said.

While the Saudi government continues to draw criticism from international rights groups, the crown prince has pushed ahead with reforms since his sudden appointment on June 21.

Monitors, including Amnesty International, say Saudi Arabia has in parallel stepped up its repression of peaceful rights activists.

Saudi authorities last month arrested more than 20 activists, including two popular Muslim preachers, without disclosing any charges against them.

But the young prince is widely regarded as being the force behind King Salman’s decision last month to lift a decades-long ban prohibiting women from driving.

Prince Mohammed’s comments came hours after the opening of the Future Investment Initiative, a three-day economic conference that drew some 2,500 dignitaries, including 2,000 foreign investors, to Riyadh.

The Neom project will operate under regulations separate from those that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia.

“This place is not for conventional people or conventional companies,” Prince Mohammed said. “This will be a place for the dreamers of the world.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post

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Saudi Prince, Asserting Power, Brings Clerics to Heel

Time: November 5, 2017

BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — For decades, Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment wielded tremendous power, with bearded enforcers policing public behavior, prominent sheikhs defining right and wrong, and religious associations using the kingdom’s oil wealth to promote their intolerant interpretation of Islam around the world.

Now, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing their power as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam.

Before the arrests on Saturday of his fellow royals and former ministers on corruption allegations, Prince Mohammed had stripped the religious police of their arrest powers and expanded the space for women in public life, including promising them the right to drive.

Dozens of hard-line clerics have been detained, while others were designated to speak publicly about respect for other religions, a topic once anathema to the kingdom’s religious apparatus.

If the changes take hold, they could mean a historic reordering of the Saudi state by diminishing the role of hard-line clerics in shaping policy. That shift could reverberate abroad by moderating the exportation of the kingdom’s uncompromising version of Islam, Wahhabism, which has been accused of fueling intolerance and terrorism.

Bringing the religious establishment to heel is also a crucial part of the prince’s efforts to take the traditional levers of Saudi power under his control. The arrests on Saturday appeared to cripple potential rivals within the royal family and send a warning to the business community to toe the line.

Prince Mohammed has taken control of the country’s three main security forces, and now is corralling the powerful religious establishment.

As evidence of that, the kingdom’s chief religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, endorsed the arrests over the weekend, saying that Islamic law “instructs us to fight corruption and our national interest requires it.”

The 32-year-old crown prince outlined his religious goals at a recent investment conference in Riyadh, saying the kingdom needed a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.”

But such top-down changes will face huge challenges in a deeply conservative society steeped in the idea that Saudi Arabia’s religious strictures set it apart from the rest of the world as a land of unadulterated Islam. Enforcing those changes will also require overhauling the state’s sprawling religious bureaucracy, many of whose employees fear that the kingdom is forsaking its principles.

“For sure, it does not make me comfortable,” a government cleric in Buraida, a conservative city north of Riyadh, said of the new acceptance of gender mixing and music at public events. “Anything that has sin in it, anything that angers the Almighty — it’s a problem.”

The government has tried to silence such sentiments by arresting clerics and warning members of the religious police not to speak publicly about the loss of their powers, according to their relatives.

All clerics interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that they, too, would be arrested for breaking with the government line.

“They did a pre-emptive strike,” one cleric said of the arrests. “All those who thought about saying no to the government got arrested.”

He acknowledged that many conservatives have reservations about the new direction but would go along, in part because Saudi Islam emphasizes obedience to the ruler.

“It’s not like they held a referendum and said, ‘Do you want to go this way or that way?’” he said. “But in the end, people go through the door that you open for them.”

The clerics have long been subservient to the royal family, but their independence has eroded as they became government functionaries and have been forced to accept — and at times sanction — policies they disliked, like the arrival of American troops, whom they considered infidels, during the Gulf War in 1990.

“In a sense, Mohammed bin Salman is trying to fight with a religious establishment that is already weakened,” said Stéphane Lacroix, a scholar of political Islam at Sciences Po, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. “Most of the Wahhabi clerics are not happy with what is happening, but preserving the alliance with the monarchy is what matters most. They have much more to lose by protesting.”

The alliance of the clerics and the royal family dates to the founding of the Saudi dynasty in the 1700s. Since then, the royal family governed with guidance from the clerics, who legitimized their rule.

The alliance persisted through the foundation of the modern Saudi state by the crown prince’s grandfather in 1932, giving the kingdom its strict Islamic character. Women shroud their bodies in black gowns, shops close periodically throughout the day for prayer, alcohol is forbidden and grave crimes are punished by beheading.

Public observance of any religion other than Islam is banned, and clerics run the justice system, which hands down harsh punishments like floggingsand prison for crimes like disobeying one’s father and apostasy.

Human rights groups say the kingdom’s textbooks still promote intolerance, and conservatives in the education ministry pass their views along to students.

While the prohibition on the mixing of unrelated men and women is starting to change, gender segregation remains the norm.

Crown Prince Mohammed, who rose to prominence after his father became king in 2015, has shown little deference to the traditional religious establishment while spearheading an unprecedented social opening.

When the government took arrest powers away from the religious police last year, many Saudis were so shocked that they suspected it was not real. That change paved the way for new entertainment options, including concerts and dance performances.

In addition to promising women the right to drive next June, the government has named women to high-profile jobs and announced that it would allow them to enter soccer stadiums, another blow to the ban on mixing of the sexes.

In pushing such reforms, Crown Prince Mohammed is betting the kingdom’s large youth population cares more about entertainment and economic opportunities than religious dogma.

Many young Saudis have cheered the new direction, and would love to see the clerics banished from public life. But the changes have shocked conservatives.

“Society in general at this time is very scared,” said another cleric in Buraida. “They feel that the issue is negative. It will push women into society. That is what is in their minds, that it is not right and that it will bring more corruption than benefits.”

Photo

Men gather to pray just after sunset, at Al Bujairi square. CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Like other clerics, he saw no religious reason to bar women from driving but said he was against changing the status of women in ways that he said violated Islamic law.

“They want her to dance. They want her to go to the cinema. They want her to uncover her face. They want her to show her legs and thighs. That is liberal thought,” he said. “It is a corrupting ideology.”

Still, some find the recent moves encouraging.

“If they have to take serious measures to stamp out the uglier parts of Salafism that permeate Islam around the world, it could be on the whole quite a good thing,” said Cole Bunzel, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But a cleric who works in education in Riyadh said he worried that pushing the conservatives too far could drive the most extreme ones underground, where they could be drawn to violence.

Precedents for such blowback dot Saudi history.

In 1979, extremists who accused the royal family of being insufficiently Islamic seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, shocking the Muslim world. Later, Osama bin Laden founded Al Qaeda after breaking with Saudi Arabia over its reliance on Western troops for protection. More recently, thousands of Saudis have joined the Islamic State for similar reasons.

But precedents also exist of clerics adopting changes they initially condemned.

Many fought the introduction of television; now, they have their own satellite channels. Others resisted education for girls; they now send their daughters to school.

One cleric said he had not wanted his wife and daughters to have cellphones at first either, but later changed his mind. The same could happen with driving.

“With time, if society sees that the decision is positive and safe, they will accept it,” he said.

This article was first published in The New York Times

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I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, says crown prince

Time: 24 Oct 2017

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return the country to “moderate Islam” and asked for global support to transform the hardline kingdom into an open society that empowers citizens and lures investors.

In an interview with the Guardian, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne said the ultra-conservative state had been “not normal” for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”.

Expanding on comments he made at an investment conference at which he announced the launch of an ambitious $500bn (£381bn) independent economic zone straddling Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, Prince Mohammed said: “We are a G20 country. One of the biggest world economies. We’re in the middle of three continents. Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world. So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone.

“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”

Earlier Prince Mohammed had said: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.”

The crown prince’s comments are the most emphatic he has made during a six-month reform programme that has tabled cultural reforms and economic incentives unimaginable during recent decades, during which the kingdom has been accused of promoting a brand of Islam that underwrote extremism.

The comments were made as the heir of the incumbent monarch moves to consolidate his authority, sidelining clerics whom he believes have failed to support him and demanding unquestioning loyalty from senior officials whom he has entrusted to drive a 15-year reform programme that aims to overhaul most aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

Central to the reforms has been the breaking of an alliance between hardline clerics who have long defined the national character and the House of Saud, which has run affairs of state. The changes have tackled head-on societal taboos such as the recently rescinded ban on women driving, as well as scaling back guardianship laws that restrict women’s roles and establishing an Islamic centre tasked with certifying the sayings of the prophet Muhammed.

The scale and scope of the reforms has been unprecedented in the country’s modern history and concerns remain that a deeply conservative base will oppose what is effectively a cultural revolution – and that the kingdom lacks the capacity to follow through on its economic ambitions.

The new economic zone is to be established on 470km of the Red Sea coast, in a tourist area that has already been earmarked as a liberal hub akin to Dubai, where male and female bathers are free to mingle.

It has been unveiled as the centrepiece of efforts to turn the kingdom away from a near total dependence on oil and into a diverse open economy. Obstacles remain: an entrenched poor work ethic, a crippling regulatory environment and a general reluctance to change.

“Economic transformation is important but equally essential is social transformation,” said one of the country’s leading businessmen. “You cannot achieve one without the other. The speed of social transformation is key. It has to be manageable.”

Alcohol, cinemas and theatres are still banned in the kingdom and mingling between unrelated men and women remains frowned upon. However Saudi Arabia – an absolute monarchy – has clipped the wings of the once-feared religious police, who no longer have powers to arrest and are seen to be falling in line with the new regime.

Economically Saudi Arabia will need huge resources if it is to succeed in putting its economy on a new footing and its leadership believes it will fail to generate strategic investments if it does not also table broad social reforms.

Prince Mohammed had repeatedly insisted that without establishing a new social contract between citizen and state, economic rehabilitation would fail. “This is about giving kids a social life,” said a senior Saudi royal figure. “Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that – except the people in small towns. But they will learn.”

In the next 10 years, at least five million Saudis are likely to enter the country’s workforce, posing a huge problem for officials who currently do not have jobs to offer them or tangible plans to generate employment.

The economic zone is due to be completed by 2025 – five years before the current cap on the reform programme – and is to be powered by wind and solar energy, according to its founders.

The country’s enormous sovereign wealth fund is intended to be a key backer of the independent zone. It currently has $230bn under management. The sale of 5% of the world’s largest company, Aramco, is expected to raise several hundred billion dollars more.

This article was first published in The Guardian

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Saudi Crown Prince announces launch of global tourism ‘Red Sea Project’

Time: August 1, 2017

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, said the Red Sea Project will be built in one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse natural spots. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced the launch of an international tourism venture in Saudi Arabia under the working title of the “Red Sea Project”.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), said the Red Sea Project will be built in one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse natural spots, in cooperation with the world’s largest hotel companies to develop exceptional resorts on more than 50 natural islands between the cities of Amlaj and Al-Jawh, just a few kilometers from one of the Kingdom’s protected reserves and inactive volcanoes in Harat Alrahat area.

The project is set to turn the areas into a leading coastal destination, located on a number of pristine islands near the Red Sea. The project will be located close to the Mada’in Saleh, an archaeological site characterized by its urban beauty and great historical significance.

مشروع البحر الأحمر

@TheRedSeaSA

50 جزيرة في تجعل السعودية وجهة سياحية عالمية.

A few minutes from the main beach, visitors will be able to discover hidden treasures in the Red Sea area, including a nature reserve to explore the diversity of flora and fauna in the area. Adventure enthusiasts will be able to navigate between the inactive volcanoes located next to the project area, and dive enthusiasts explore the abundant coral reefs in the surrounding waters.

As tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the Red Sea project will contribute to a qualitative shift in the concept of tourism and hospitality.

Cultivating heritage sites

Under the project, heritage sites will also be restored on a scientific basis to be ready for visitors. For example, a higher ceiling will be set for visitors to the region, in line with global best practices in tourism and archeology.

“The new project aims to promote international tourism by opening the Red Sea gate to the world in order to identify its treasures and embark on new adventures that will attract tourists locally, regionally and internationally. The project will be a center for everything related to recreation, health and relaxation and an integrated model for healthy and vital society,” a statement on Saudi Press Agency read.

“In order to preserve the unique environmental character of the region, environmental sustainability laws and mechanisms will be developed. Natural resources will be conserved in accordance with the best practices and standards in place globally,” the statement added.

he Red Sea project will be developed as a private area where systems will be applied in accordance with international best practices and expertise to enable the achievement of the project objectives. The foundation will be laid in the third quarter of 2019 and the first phase will be completed in the last quarter of 2022, a time which will see the development of the airport, the port, the development of hotels and luxury residences, the completion of facilities and infrastructure, and transport services (boats, water jets, etc.).

The PIF will inject initial investments into this project and open partnerships with leading international companies, which will bring new and direct investments to the Kingdom while seeking to attract and redirect Saudi tourism expenses into the kingdom.

The project will attract the world’s leading names in the tourism and hospitality sectors to harness its expertise, competencies and financial investments to enrich the experiences of this destination, provide more value to its visitors and maximize the economic gains of the Kingdom.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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