Since coming to power in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman has ruled his kingdom with an iron fist, alternating between purges and repressions. Banished from international society since the assassination of a dissident journalist, the Saudi crown prince is gradually regaining color.
Since last December, Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden have both met MBS. The war in Ukraine having passed through there and with it, soaring energy prices, here he is again becoming an “indispensable” player. This Thursday, January 28, he is invited to dinner at the Elysée by Emmanuel Macron, for a moment of “work”.
Purge and repression of feminists
In November 2017, dozens of influential figures including ministers and the billionaire prince Al-Walid ben Talal were arrested in a vast purge in the name of the fight against corruption orchestrated by the crown prince. For three months, the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh will become their golden prison, guarded by security guards and cut off from the world.
In a column published on November 5 in the American daily washington postSaudi writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi compares this coup to the “night of the long knives” and compares MBS to Putin. Mohammed ben Salmane, who controls the main levers of power, from defense to the economy, then consolidates his hold and imprisons dissidents, from eminent clerics to human rights activists.
In March 2020, Prince Ahmed ben Abdelaziz al-Saud, the king’s brother, as well as the monarch’s nephew, Prince Mohammed ben Nayef, were arrested, accused of having prepared a coup aimed at ousting him.
At the same time, MBS launches a vast plan of economic changes to get the country out of its dependence on oil. He also initiates societal reforms. Women are allowed to drive, sporting and cultural events in front of a mixed audience are increasing. However, Saudi women remain subject to male guardianship, and the authorities have stepped up repression against feminists.
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi
A murder with resonance and worldwide turmoil. On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, columnist for the “Washington Post” was killed and dismembered at the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as he came to collect papers necessary for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. The journalist had lived for years in exile in the United States but kept a watchful and critical eye towards Saudi power.
At first, the Saudi authorities claimed that Jamal Khashoggi, who had entered the consulate on October 2 for administrative procedures, had come out alive, thus qualifying the accusations of Turkish officials “unfounded”. The murder of the journalist caused a serious diplomatic crisis between the Kingdom and many countries, despite the denial of MBS who denied having ordered the death of the journalist. However, he claimed to bear the responsibility as a leader.
Still, the intelligence services are clear: it is indeed the Saudi leader who “valid” murder. Biden then promised to consider the kingdom as a “pariah”.
In December 2019, five people were sentenced to death and three others to prison terms in Saudi Arabia in this case. This verdict is widely considered around the world as a travesty of justice.
Last June, the street in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington was renamed after Jamal Khashoggi. The town hall of the capital of the United States unveiled the panel “Jamal Khashoggi Way”, in tribute to the dissident. The new street will serve as “constant reminder” and of “memorial so that the memory of Jamal Khashoggi can never be suppressed”, said City Council President Phil Mendelson, who voted unanimously in favor of the new name.
Saad Hariri resigns from Riyadh
On November 4, 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh to everyone’s surprise, accusing the Shiite Hezbollah movement and Iran of “stranglehold” on his country.
Saudi Arabia denies, as it is accused of, having forced Mr. Hariri to leave office and having retained him against his will.
The Dirty War in Yemen
Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition since 2015 that has been helping the Yemeni government against Houthi rebels in a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. Washington provides logistical and intelligence support.
On August 9, 2018, Saudi Arabia was blamed for an airstrike against a bus that killed 51 people, including 40 children, in Saada, in northern Yemen and stronghold of the Houthis.
The coalition then recognizes “errors” but accuses Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, of using civilians as human shields.
According to the UN, the conflict in Yemen has killed 377,000 people, direct and indirect victims of the fighting in a country plunged into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.