The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, otherwise known as MBS is in America, trying to drum up investments, cosy up to the Trump administration even more, play online games with Jared Kushner, and visit Apple and Uber where the kingdom just plopped down $3.5 Billion at an astoundingly high valuation. Ah, the joy of spending other people’s money. He is also here to paint Iran as the arch villain, make bonds with Israeli right wing and generally walk around in pomp and circumstance. MBS did a milquetoast interview with 60 minutes where the softball questions were pre-packaged and thrown like soap bubbles by Ms O’Donnell, a vacuous blonde with little knowledge of the Middle East, Islam and many interpretations of the religion. There was not a challenging question in sight and the tone was eternally deferential. There are many topics that the 60 Minutes interview touched on. My goal here is to put some context to the very important topics and present reality without the spin.
Proliferation of Wahhabism and the really intolerant variant of Sharia practices came up like a light from a shooting star during the interview, here now and gone in seconds. Fifteen of the seventeen 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and the act itself was a distillation of the intolerant proselytising that the Saudi government and preachers practiced for eons. In the wake of their aggressive outreach and funding, madrassas have gone from a few hundred in Pakistan to over 30,000. Similar numbers exist in Bangladesh. The intolerance has been exported to Kosovo, Bosnia, Western Europe and all of Central Asia. The net result of exporting of the Wahhabi extremist to the rest of world has been creation of ISIS, indiscriminate murder and mayhem in Syria, a modern era’s first failed or failing state in Pakistan.
Would the good Crown Prince accept some responsibilities and work towards amending his policies that may, just may bring some breathing room? Not a chance! MBS squarely blamed all of the problems with Saudi extremism on, wait for it, Iran. He “Arabsplained” to Ms O’Donnell that Saudi Arabia was defending itself from the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. The logic is that in order to keep the extremist mullahs in check in his native Saudi Arabia, the country decided to export ideology, nettlesome mullahs and Billions to petrodollars to other hapless Muslim countries. The Afghanistan war against the Soviets also gave them cover to export trouble makers, zealots and no-goodniks out of Saudi Arabia. They embarked on training a set of mullahs without any basic education either in Quran or Civics in the art of “off with the infidel’s heads” mantra, err, fatwas. The barbarity continued unabated with the sanctions of Saudi monarchy and the Saudi clergy. It is sad to observe that this crazy policy may have succeeded to a degree. The Saudi government has been able to suppress Shia minorities in the oil rich Eastern part of Saudi Arabia with impunity. Their support of over 16 extremists groups in Pakistan including Lashkar-e-Toiba and Pakistani Taliban has almost managed to unhinge a country with nuclear capabilities. MBS also asserted that recent resurgence Al Qaeda is an Iranian project. He pointed out that Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden lives in Iran and has been known to send out poems and other inspirational tidbits. As usual the good Prince is conflating truth with a large dose of lies and fantasy. Yes, Hamza bin Ladin is in Iran along with his mother and a large retinue of bin Laden family. They are in an Iranian prison that has been modified to afford them some luxury and family living. Al Qaeda is not stirring the pot from inside Iran as the mullahs in Tehran are loathe to give succour to their religious sworn enemies, the Sunnis. There is undoubtedly a game of Thorne going on with the bin Laden family but it is not revival of the movement of Al Qaeda. Well, the truth does not matter. The Crown Prince got to assert in front of the millions of 60 Minutes viewers that it was indeed the fault of the Ayatollahs of Qom and Tehran. He wants to make sure that he is in the nuclear game so that Muslims can annihilate each other if he so wishes. “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed said in the same CBS’s “60 Minutes” interview aired on March 18.
MBS proclaims that he is modernising the backward country of his. The shiny object that he is using to distract the world is his promise to let women drive starting in June 2018. There is a driving school for women at the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University. They teach driving is video game like simulators. It is all good. However, the Crown Prince and his cohort has not addressed the underlying Guardianship Laws. These Laws stipulate that women cannot go outside the house even for medical help without a male guardian. This thing is so perverse that a mother is forced to wait for her teenage son to come home so that she can go out to shop, seek help or see friends. The nitty-gritty of these laws and other social norms are enforced by the Orwellian named “Committee for promotion of Virtue and prevention of vice”. The street enforcers (Mutaween) of this nifty bit of social engineering are a bunch of uneducated thugs who walk around with sticks in malls and streets. They beat up people, arrest them and create terror. MBS has not been able to address the core issue because he is too chicken to tangle with the theocratic establishment. So, the shiny object of women driving may still be just that, a shiny object for a select group of women. As they Insha Allah, we shall see. By the way, Mutaween was set up in 1940, which is decades before the trigger date of 1979.
Saudi Royal family (all of the 15,000 Princes and Princesses) is a one big bloated whale of corruption. They are sucking the country dry and impoverishing generations of ordinary Arabs. The country has squandered billions of Dollars because of the profligacy of the countless royal family members. I was in London in 2016 and I was walking around Knightsbridge on a summer day and got carried away by sirens and commotion. In front of Carlton Tower Hotel there were number of Bentleys, Rolls Royce and Hummers. The eye catching thing was that, all these cars were clad in real gold. There was a huge commotion about this rude display of arrogant wealth (Owner of luxury fleet of gold supercars in Knightsbridge hit with hundreds of pounds in parking fines – Evening Standard, Mar 30, 2016). The person that put together this ostentatious display was 19 year old Saudi Royal Princeling.
MBS claims he is on a campaign to wipe out corruption. So, the first act was to herd a bunch of wealthiest Princes and business tycoons into the Riyadh Ritz Carlton Hotel. The Crown Prince claims that the detainees have settled with the House of Saud for a total in excess of $110 Billion. Of course, no one knows what corruption any of those detained committed and what percent of their wealth has been taken by MBS. The thing that MBS kept repeating is that he is modernising Saudi Arabia and getting rid of corruption. This from a guy who over the last eighteen months bought a Yacht for some $340 million, a painting for $450 million and a chateau in France for a rumoured $150 million. Now, how does a 32 year old get that kind of wealth? His response to hapless Ms O’Donnell was, well I am rich, go pound sand. He said that The Saud family has been ruling Saudi Arabia for hundreds of years. Besides, he was not going to discuss his personal finances with O’Donnell. The fact is that Saudi Arabia was founded on September 23, 1932 by Abdul Aziz bin Saud. If you want to push the history back a bit then you can start the clock ticking in 1902. That is when Abdul Aziz returned from Kuwait and fought against the other tribal power held by Al Rashid. He conquered Riyadh and then fought a number of tribal skirmishes to expand the influence of House of Saud. In any event, MBS does not come from a Royal lineage going back hundreds of years. Fake news! I suppose corruption is when others get wealth illicitly but it is not corruption if the wealth accrues to MBS and he merry band of sycophants!
So, where does this lead us? Why should anyone bother about an illiterate Royal (by the way, almost all of the Royals are illiterate) from a country still living in a stone-age mindset. We should care because this happens to be an extraordinarily dangerous time. We have Grandpa Donny (aka, Donald Trump) who is not even Potty trained in the White House. He claims he has the biggest nuclear button. We have Bibi Netanyahu spoiling to have a go at Iran and of course we have the radical Islamists itching to blow themselves up and present themselves to the virgins in the highest Paradise. In this volatile mix a guy like MBS is a present and imminent danger. His war in Yemen has cost untold thousands of lives, destroyed the country’s infrastructure and about to usher in a huge famine. This is an incandescent mix of horribilis and if we let MBS run around and get the world media and most people bamboozled then only bad things will come. Now is the time to sound the alarm.