Mohammed bin Salman, who is on his first trip to the United States since becoming Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, is being heralded as a once-in-a-generation reformer by many Western media personalities and policy analysts. These observers have been captivated by recent modernization measures related to the status of women and by Mohammed bin Salman’s public advocacy for a more “moderate” form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, arguably the most socially conservative country in the world.
POMED’s newest fact sheet, “Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia: A Closer Look,” seeks to put these changes into perspective. This fact sheet underscores that the crown prince’s reforms, while important, have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent and extralegal measures seemingly intended to silence his critics. And, notwithstanding the crown prince’s modernization measures, Saudi Arabia remains an absolute monarchy in which women enjoy few social rights – and even fewer political rights – and politics is the almost exclusive domain of the al-Saud family. When all of the facts are considered, the story that emerges is far more complicated and defies easy categorization into a reform narrative.