MG is an air warrior with a distinguished career and now a corporate advisor, writer, and intrepid traveler and novelist
Saudi Arabia is one of the most significant states of the Middle East. It is the custodian of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina and thus has a special place in the Islamic world. It is also the leader of the Sunni Muslims and for decades has followed the Wahhabi form or what we refer to as the "pure form" of Islamic law. Many human rights organizations all over the world had been campaigning for the dilution of Islamic laws which were gender-biased and needed to be toned down or replaced. In the eyes of many Islamic thinkers, the Saudi royal family was considered an anachronistic institution that is not in tune with the modern age and thus needed to be replaced.
With the passage of time, the Saudi Royal Family extended to over 2000 persons, princes, and became entrenched in every walk of Saudi life. Resentment was building up against the royal family among the people, many of who were educated in the United States and could not reconcile to the archaic policies pursued. For example, women had very little freedom and were not allowed to drive, go out without the escort of a male house member, as well forbidden to work.
In this entire scenario, the role of the United States was dubious. The US, backed the Saudi regime, sold it billions of dollars worth of arms, and made no attempt to temper the obscurantist laws.
The winds of change had to blow and one man appeared on the scene namely Mohammed Bin Salman also popularly called MBS. He had the confidence of the king and at the same time realized that the sands of time were running out for Saudi Arabia if it did not bring in a catallactic change in Saudi society, to keep its place as the leader of the Islamic Sunni world.
MBS had the example before him of Kemal Mustafa Ataturk who had modernized Turkey after dismantling the Ottoman Caliphate in 1922. He converted Turkey into a secular state and made the state westernized. MBS also decided on something similar and for that like Ata Turk, he concentrated all power in his hands. The stage had been set for the transformation of Saudi society.
MBS propels forward
MBS decided to act and the first thing he did was to act against the royal family. This had burgeoned to a massive entity costing the state millions of dollars in perks, stipends, and lifestyles. MBS realized that revenues from oil would decline and a stage may come when oil would lose its revenue-generating capacity hence the flab had to be removed and a fresh impetus given to Saudi society, in which women had to be made equal partners.
Most of the princes living on state funds and having a ball and indulging in nefarious activities were arrested and confined to the walls of a five-star hotel in Riyadh. The princes were broken like one "breaks" a horse and fined millions of dollars to get their freedom. The royal family soon caved in and MBS was able to proceed further. He stopped all the payments except the bare minimum to a few as he set his sights further.
During this course, he also annulled many laws, removed the powers of the religious police, Allowed women to drive, and now has said that women do not need a chaperon of a male relative to travel abroad or go anywhere. These changes were reflected in everyday life and women began to come to the forefront. He also began to diversify the economy from a purely oil-based economy to a more broad-based economy.
The biggest changes were in the foreign affairs department. MBS has decided to tone down dependence on the USA, after the mother of all retreats in Afghanistan and is going in for the S400 missile system from Russia. It has opened to India where the Indian Prime minister Modi was awarded the highest civilian honor during his visit. It has stopped bankrolling Pakistan as he has realized the unpredictable nature of the Pak leadership, where Pakistan with help of Turkey was aspiring to be a leader of the Muslim world. All this was punctured in one minute when the Saudi's called for the return of 1 billion dollars immediately.
Saudi Arabia has a long way to go forward. MBS has his work cut out. There are many in the kingdom who are not happy with the changes being brought about by MBS but no path to progress is not littered with thorns. Many have accused MBS of being an autocrat, yes, its probably true, but we must remember that any catalectic change in society has be through a revolution and one man has to be at the helm. I will not go into the examples from history as there are so many of them. MBS has also approved the outreach to Israel and the Abraham accord between the Arab States and Israel was not possible without his acquiescence.
MBS is firmly in the saddle and his priorities are clear. He has to take Saudi Arabia from medieval times to the modern age. The educated elite of Saudi Arabia now are seeing hope.
Salman's Legacy: The Dilemmas of a New Era in Saudi Arabia by Mdawy Al Rashid ( Oxford University Press)
MBS: the rise to power of Mohammed bin Salman written by Ben Hubbard, narrated by Robert Petkoff. (https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/mbs-the-rise-to-power-of-mohammed-bin-salman/417267?refId=38712&gclid=Cj0KCQiAip-PBhDVARIsAPP2xc2lMFOipYmySB6tT9RJbwHYUs237gB-Kksp3tHaR0Z0DJp5yKLbjNEaAjRcEALw_wcB)
© 2022 MG Singh