Mohammed bin Salman has spent his summer putting the finishing touches on a “wildly successful reputation rehabilitation”, says Megan Stack in The New York Times. The Saudi Crown Prince has been fist-bumping Joe Biden, feasting at the Élysée with Emmanuel Macron, and soaking up the “sycophantic praise” of Greek officials in the birthplace of democracy. Western leaders are touting Saudi Arabia’s “social and economic progress”, in particular how MBS has “liberated Saudi women”.
Don’t believe a word of it. First, women are still prosecuted as terrorists for even “dabbling in politics”: a PhD student was jailed for 34 years this month because she tweeted in support of dissidents. Then there are the “mundane freedoms” MBS has brought in, like being allowed to drive. Sure, a Saudi woman born into a “clan of freethinking men” can get a licence – but if her husband or father disagrees, she has to obey his wishes. It’s the same with marriage: women still need their “male guardian” to agree to any match, and a wife may not “withhold herself” sexually from her husband. The “brave new age” of Formula One racing and Mariah Carey concerts is little more than an “avalanche of glossy propaganda”. But our leaders are buying into it because they desperately need Saudi oil. In today’s economic climate, “morals are a luxury the West can no longer afford”.