Known in the West by his initials MBS, the crown prince may, as he said, ‘love’ working with the US and Trump but, when it comes to thinking of examples of successful managers of social change, he is decidedly ‘America last.’ Any drastic financial, political and legal reforms come with a hefty price tag, he emphasized, drawing parallels with the history of the United States.
“…if you look at the United States of America, when for example they wanted to free the slaves. What was the price? Civil war. It divided America for a few years. Thousands, tens of thousands of people died to win freedom for the slaves,” Bin Salman told Bloomberg, in a wide-ranging interview published Friday.
“Here we are trying to get rid of extremism and terrorism without civil war, without stopping the country from growing, with continuous progress in all elements,” the crown prince added. “So if there is a small price in that area, it’s better than paying a big debt to do that move.”
Two weeks? Try 2,000 years!
Bin Salman brushed off US President Donald Trump’s somewhat humiliating comments about Saudi Arabia perishing within two weeks without American support, saying that his kingdom existed decades before the US and will need “something like around 2,000 years to maybe face some dangers.”
“Actually, we will pay nothing for our security,” the prince firmly stated, explaining that since Trump’s statements were clearly addressed to a domestic audience he did not find them offensive.
“We believe that all the armaments we have from the United States of America are paid for, it’s not free armament,” he reiterated. Explaining that, after Trump became US president, Saudi Arabia has already agreed to procure nearly 60 percent of its arms from Washington, he emphasized that Riyadh owes nothing extra because it always pays for weapons supplies in cash.
“I love working with him. I really like working with him,” bin Salman said of Trump, calling his comments a “one percent”disagreement between allies.
Saudis aren’t scared, only 1,500 ‘extremists’ arrested in 3 years
Bin Salman has been the public face of “reforms” that Riyadh has embarked on to diversify its economy and relax some of its laws – such as allowing women to drive, for example – since he became crown prince of Saudi Arabia in 2017.
Asked about discontent with the pace of those reforms and why some Saudis seem afraid to speak to journalists, bin Salman said they shouldn’t be and that only those “extremists” who organize street protests or cooperate with foreign “intelligence agencies” should fear imminent arrest. In the course of “fighting extremism, fighting terrorism” over the past three years, only “about 1,500” people have been arrested, he claimed, comparing it to 50,000 in Turkey after the attempted military coup there.
Anyone shown to have “links with intelligence against Saudi Arabia or extremism or terrorists” will face Saudi law, bin Salman stated. “We have do to this. We cannot fight extremists having 500 or 700 extremists on the streets recruiting people.” He named Iran and Qatar as the main suspects.
While the Salafist Saudi Kingdom has long been at odds with the predominantly Shia Islamic Republic on the other side of the Gulf, relations with Qatar have soured in recent years. Riyadh and its allies declared a blockade of the peninsular monarchy in June 2107, accusing Qatar, the owners of Al Jazeera, of secretly collaborating with Iran and of supporting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorists. The tensions show no signs of ending anytime soon.