The Son King: Reform and Repression in Saudi Arabia, by Madawi Al-Rasheed, (Oxford University Push: January 2021), 312 internet pages.
The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has engaged in many a long time of intensifying domestic repression and destructive recklessness abroad. In get to bolster his intercontinental standing and consolidate his ability, he has also presented himself as a champion of social and economic reform.
Many thanks in aspect to credulous Western admirers, the crown prince was for a time capable to crack down brutally on domestic critics and prospective rivals devoid of alienating overseas companies and governments. But his more and more repressive de facto rule has spurred quite a few Saudi citizens to flee into exile, exactly where the increasing diaspora speaks out versus him and the abuses of the Saudi authorities. As a result, the crown prince’s repressive methods have ultimately come again to chunk him with his international supporters, and now Saudi Arabia finds itself additional vulnerable to outside strain and criticism than it has been for many many years.
Madawi Al-Rasheed’s The Son King: Reform and Repression in Saudi Arabia is an superb new account of these current developments. Al-Rasheed recounts the working experience of lots of members of this diaspora and spots their opposition to the Saudi regime in the context of the record of the ruling family members and the country. The reserve is an essential witness to the crown prince’s thuggish abuses, and it offers a window into Saudi culture and the varied group of Saudi exiles that has unfold out all-around the environment to escape this federal government. Her account is also a scathing indictment of the Saudi regime below its latest leadership, and she doesn’t keep again from offering withering criticism of the crown prince’s demagogic new nationalism and his use of sectarianism to promote the war on Yemen.
As additional Saudis go into exile, the Saudi regime has turn into a lot more intent on monitoring, harassing, and attacking its own citizens abroad. The most popular example of this was the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in Oct 2018. Simply because of Khashoggi’s longstanding ties with the royal spouse and children and his past function as a defender of Saudi authorities insurance policies, his murder was meant to signal to exiles that the routine would appear following anybody, no make a difference how very well-acknowledged that particular person might be. If the aim was to cut down exterior criticism of the routine, nonetheless, we have to conclude that this program blew up in the crown prince’s experience just like all the things else he has finished. It was the murder of Khashoggi that forced most of the crown prince’s cheerleaders to silence them selves, and the outrage over that killing drove quite a few fence-sitting politicians in Congress into the camp opposing the Saudi-led war on Yemen. The backlash to the murder has spurred additional mobilization of activists. We can see that in the continued work of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the corporation that Khashoggi established.
Like several other hybrid and authoritarian regimes all around the entire world, the Saudi regime has been tightening its grip on political dissent and activism in the final ten years. The routine has also promoted a new Saudi nationalism to mask the country’s religious and tribal divisions and to remake the country’s identification as it sees suit. Advertising nationalist sentiment has proved valuable as a pretext for cracking down on dissent, and it is also made use of to bolster the crown prince’s domestic standing. In the context of Mohammed bin Salman’s harmful overseas plan, it has functioned as a usually means of rallying common help at the rear of attacking Yemen.
Al-Rasheed discusses the new Saudi nationalism at good length. She inquiries whether it can even genuinely be referred to as nationalism, simply because it is driven by the crown prince’s require to shore up his place:
The development that numerous media reporters and analysts are referring to as a new Saudi nationalism might not be nationalism after all. What we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia is the systematic and intense endeavours of a prince who was elevated to the maximum placement in the point out, with no heritage of practical experience in governing administration and at the price of other much more senior princes, to consolidate his ability. A genuine nationalist motion would have to have far more than rhetoric, thuggery, murder and commonly offered treason fees versus critics.
Al-Rasheed draws a photograph of a fairly brittle nationalist veneer, which the crown prince is employing to conceal the inner difficulties of the region. She notes that the crown prince’s nationalist task is so anchored in the Najd region that it might guide to additional instability, by provoking the development of “counter-regional nationalisms” from other parts of the nation. It is an open question no matter whether the new nationalism will have being ability around the longer expression, or if it will succumb to difficulties from more mature claims of spiritual and tribal id.
As Al-Rasheed shows, the Saudi regime also uses express sectarian appeals to justify the war in Yemen. She observes that the government nonetheless takes advantage of Wahhabism when it finds it hassle-free:
Currently, the Wahhabi custom exists in a contentious romantic relationship with ability. It is neither deserted wholly nor wholeheartedly endorsed. It is even now invoked in unique contexts, for illustration the 2015 war on Yemen, in which Saudi-Wahhabi rhetoric resurfaced as a instrument to demonize Zaydi Yemenis, or to mobilize Saudis in opposition to Shia activism and their alleged Iranian backers.
When Mohammed bin Salman performed the reasonable for Tom Friedman and feigned ignorance about what Wahhabism is in interviews with Western media, his government intentionally employs Wahhabist rhetoric as part of its wartime propaganda. With really handful of exceptions, the Saudi government’s use of sectarianism in selling the war has absent mostly unnoticed in the West, just as the Saudi coalition’s war crimes in Yemen went unnoticed for these kinds of a lengthy time. That is, until eventually they turned difficult to disregard.
Many in Western media, governments, and companies uncritically embraced Mohammed bin Salman for years and served to whitewash and go over up his ability grabs and abuses of electrical power. The crown prince’s apologists not only accepted that he was the visionary reformer that he claimed to be, but they refused to fork out interest to the considerable and expanding overall body of proof that contradicted this. When he locked up hundreds of princes and businessmen in the Ritz Carlton in 2017 in a shady shakedown, they ended up rapid to vouch for the so-named “anti-corruption” marketing campaign. Even though Saudi coalition jets slaughtered Yemeni civilians, they adjusted the topic to a prospective IPO for Aramco.
The credulity and indulgence of Western audiences ended up crucial belongings for the crown prince as he established out to consolidate electrical power, and he was capable to depend on well known pundits and politicians to make excuses for him to the rest of the planet. It didn’t make a difference how many scholars and critics his government locked up or how lots of spiritual minorities it executed on trumped-up charges as extended as there was the assure of a “new” Saudi Arabia on the horizon. The fact that the Saudi government’s behavior at household and in the location was getting to be objectively worse didn’t problem his Western followers, who had currently acquired into the product of the autocratic reformer. As Al-Rasheed places it:
The so-termed reforms of Muhammad bin Salman had been accompanied by a single of the worst and most brutal waves of domestic repression and by an erratic regional coverage. His apologists in the West were pushed by profit, the prospect of totally free entry to the state and the prince, or by true money rewards.
The uncomfortable celebrations of the crown prince in the U.S. in certain must be a cautionary tale for the long run. When there is a broad consensus amid pundits and politicians that a overseas chief is a good “reformer” who will liberalize his region, we should be very wary of becoming a member of in the applause. As an alternative, we ought to look carefully at the file of what that leader essentially does. It is virtually constantly the circumstance that the feted would-be “reformer” is telling Western traders and analysts what they want to hear in exchange for glowing testimonials of the new leadership. American observers feel particularly prone to falling for this trick, and that might aid demonstrate why our govt so frequently throws its assistance guiding the completely wrong people today.
The U.S.-Saudi connection is not the key topic of Al-Rasheed’s ebook, but our reassessment of the connection should be educated by her assessment. If Mohammed bin Salman is probably to be king of Saudi Arabia for numerous many years to come, the U.S. requires to restrict its exposure to his repressive and reckless actions by cutting down aid for the Saudi governing administration. The U.S. must be distancing by itself as a lot as achievable from this brittle routine before it embroils us in any a lot more conflicts or implicates us in any additional crimes.