Samah Hadid, the deputy director of Amnesty International, said that most human rights activists in the country were either in prison or on trial, their whereabouts still undisclosed. The others, she added, risk arrest at any time. MBS is clearly remaking Saudi Arabia in his image, while proving to be just as authoritarian as the rulers before him.
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The prince is known for his business empire, philanthropy and for being the wealthiest man in the Middle East on Forbes’ billionaires list. Unlike other Saudi princes, bin Talal is self-made, meaning that he used his inherited wealth and royal privilege to build his business empire and invest around the globe
But due to (still relatively small) Iranian influence in Yemen, the Saudis and Emiratis will be obliged to work together in the medium term. As the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel put it, ‘The war costs Tehran a few million dollars per month, while it costs Riyadh $6 billion per month.’ Any disagreement between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi could increase Iran’s influence.
However, investing in the infrastructure alone will not free Saudi society from the shackles of a medieval mindset that governs all aspects of life: the relationship between the ruler and those ruled, between men and women and between native and migrant labour. Scientific thinking needs a socially and intellectually fertile environment to flourish. That environment has yet to emerge in Saudi Arabia.
The balancing act that Hamas and Fatah are now forced to play requires some external pressure, and it appears that the Egyptians are willing to apply this pressure, especially against Hamas. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is able to exert similar pressure on the PLO, mostly by means of its financial support to the Palestinian government.
The coalition countries pay the Sudanese soldiers’ salaries, provoking accusations that the soldiers are little more than mercenaries. Although the amounts of these salaries have not been officially announced, according to some sources, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir asked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman $2 billion for every 1,000 Sudanese soldiers fighting in Yemen.
Whatever the case, such dramatic changes come at a price. The crown prince is consolidating power to a degree Saudi Arabia has not seen in generations. MBS has dismantled that system, alienating almost everyone and fundamentally altering the governance dynamics of the kingdom. By consolidating power, MBS seems to be offering a larger degree of social freedom, but there can surely be little room for dissent during this mega-transformation.