In his first interview with an American television network, CBS News program 60 Minutes profiled Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia who is strongly tipped to take over from his father, King Salman. MBS, as he is commonly known is currently in the U.S. on his first global tour since becoming Crown Prince last year.
His efforts to reshape the Gulf kingdom have already been momentous. MBS has liberalized laws by lifting the female driver ban and increasing freedoms for women, whilst holding the corrupt to account by detaining a group of Saudi officials including princes for months in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh.
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In the wide-ranging interview, MBS answered questions via a translator about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s Islam, women and his personal expenditures.
“I’m not Gandhi, or Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia,” he said when asked about his reported purchases of a $500 million yacht and a $300 million French chateau (The New York Times). “As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person, not a poor person,” the Crown Prince said.
“The amount exceeds $100 billion,” MBS explained about the money redeemed from his anti-corruption crackdown in which officials and members of the royal family paid fines of up to billions of dollars for their freedom. “The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt,” he said.
“We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal,” he says, detailing how the country’s Islam became more extreme in 1979 when the Saudis started to appease religious radicals who had taken over the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site. MBS said the extreme and strict Saudi Arabia often depicted in the Western press is not “the real Saudi Arabia”.
“We are all human beings and there is no difference,” he said when asked about gender equality in the kingdom. He said women are “absolutely” equal to men. Since his father swore him in as Crown Prince in June 2017, he has allowed women to drive, attend sports stadiums, and start their own businesses. (See WikiTribune‘s previous coverage of women in Saudi Arabia.)
“The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.” He went further about freedoms for women when asked by interviewer Norah O’Donnell about transforming Saudi Arabia into a more moderate Islam and spiking the powers of the country’s “religious police”, who have historically arrested women for not covering up. He said Sharia law, the religious law of Islam, does not specify how a woman should cover up.
“The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology,” he said whilst discussing Iran’s impact on Yemen, which MBS said is playing a “harmful role” in the Middle East. He says Iranian-backed rebels used Yemen to fire missiles at Riyadh. The United Nations recognized thousands of civilian deaths as a result of Saudi-backed air strikes and a since-lifted blockade on Yemen’s ports.
“Only death,” will stop the young crown prince, he said, closing the interview.
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Quotes sourced from CBS News.