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MBS Forever? The Saudi Crown Prince Is A Real Problem — And Here To Stay

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is getting a warm reception after arriving in France for an extended stay. He has attempted to modernize his country's image, but can the West turn a blind eye to deep moral problems in his leadership.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leads a cabinet meeting..

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leads a cabinet meeting.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — It's a textbook case that should be taught to future diplomats: an example of cynicism — or realism, depending on the preferred analytical grid. A model, in any case, of the contradictions and embarrassments of our world.

Mohammed Bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has arrived in Paris with a huge entourage. He will spend no fewer than 10 days in France, where he owns a multi-million-dollar chateau. His agenda is packed: a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace, and attendance at a summit on financing the developing world, scheduled for next week.

But the jackpot that "MBS", as he is known, is hoping to win is the 2030 World Expo. The decision is due to be made in a few months' time, and Paris is the headquarters of the organization that awards these global mega-fairs. MBS will be lobbying hard for this project, which will join the long list of trophies the kingdom has won in the sports, cultural and entertainment fields.

I was talking about contradictions and embarrassments at the start: we're right in the middle of it. When Joe Biden arrived at the White House, he talked about making Saudi Arabia a pariah country, because Khashoggi was a refugee in the U.S. The U.S. President had to give up, as the balance of power was not in his favor.

Kashoggi forever

But Mohammed Bin Salman is not just another foreign visitor; he raises a number of issues of conscience that are not easy to resolve.

The Jamal Khashoggi case will stick to the crown prince forever. According to the CIA, he was indeed the one who ordered the murder in 2018, under particularly atrocious conditions, of the Saudi journalist on the grounds of his country's consulate in Istanbul.

MBS now prefers to be seen as a modernizer of his very conservative kingdom.

This case has stunned the public with its sordid details, and you need to see the documentary The Dissident on Netflix to get the full horror.

But it's not the only one: MBS's first major action, when he received full powers in Saudi Arabia in 2017, was to launch the Yemen war, against the Houthi militiamen considered to be pro-Iranian.

The country was devastated, and the war ended with nothing but destruction and death.

MBS now prefers to be seen as a modernizer of his very conservative kingdom — but can we ignore his dark side?

\u200bSaudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Jeddah.

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Jeddah.

Saudi Press Agency/Zuma

Contradictions and embarrassments

Saudi Arabia has emancipated itself from American supervision, forged a spectacular partnership with China. Billions of dollars worth of contracts were signed a few days ago with Chinese companies. Saudi Arabia has renewed its ties with Iran, and MBS is coming to Paris for 10 days, where he is being given a warm welcome.

But at a time when "values" and "principles" and the fight against impunity are being brandished about Ukraine, Saudi Arabia's modesty is disturbing. It doesn't help to convince public opinion around the world that the West still has a double standard in its dealings with the world.

MBS, for his part, has the tranquility of his financial power — and his youth, at 38 years old. Taken together, it means he'll still be around when his detractors have long been forgotten.

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