The reforms of MBS are meant as a bromide to distract an oppressed populace and deceive Western governments and businesses into believing that Bin Salman is a modernizer; or at least giving those governments and businesses enough cover that they can continue to do business with Saudi Arabia, while looking the other way over its abuses. The strategy appears to be working. Only a year after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder caused many attendees to back out under threat of a boycott, MBS’s lavish 2019 “Davos in the Desert” business summit attracted former British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Trump’s son-in-law and emissary Jared Kushner, alongside executives from HSBC, Credit Suisse, and Blackstone.
The crown prince is not the visionary leader that he would like the world to see. Rather, he is a tyrant who has turned Saudi Arabia from a soft autocracy where mild dissent was somewhat tolerated into a police state.