As surprised as I was to learn that the editors of the New York Times would still be interested in delving into the “credulous Westerner informed of reform plans by Middle Eastern autocrat” genre, I even more surprised to find that there were still people in this world who would take seriously a fluff Tom Friedman profile of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
This is a bad idea, and it’s been a bad idea for the history of the cliched genre:
— Abdullah Al-Arian (@anhistorian) November 24, 2017
Not a few folks have mentioned that the groundbreaking reforms that Salman has pursued, and that Friedman lauds, have been commonplace in such oases of freedom as Iran and Syria for quite some time. It’s obviously good that Saudi Arabia has budged a bit on the question of whether women should be allowed to drive, but it’s by no means indicative that serious reform is on its way.
And of course one of the biggest problems with the piece is the title, which painfully invokes the Arab Spring, ignoring the aggressive role that KSA played in trying to snuff that out:
A lot wrong with this PR piece, but let’s start with: In light of Saudi backing for regional authoritarian counterrevolution that crushed the Arab Spring, this title is really awful. https://t.co/5MuLYkfSEg
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) November 24, 2017
I’d encourage you to readMax Fisher’s fine piece on Saudi influence in Washington D.C.; it succinctly describes that world view that provides fertile ground for KSA’s investment. I should also note, out of courtesy, that it’s always possible that this time will be different, and that MBS really does intend serious reform, and that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and so forth. It just doesn’t seem terribly likely, and I think that the editorial focus of the New York Times would be better served by a concentration on what MBS is actually doing to Yemen, rather than on what he’s promising to do within Saudi Arabia.