In his first interview with an American television network, CBS News program 60 Minutes profiled Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely tipped to one day replace his father, King Salman. The interview aired ahead of the U.S. leg of his first global tour since becoming Crown Prince last year.
His efforts to reform politics and social norms in the Gulf kingdom have been sweeping. MBS, as he is more commonly known, has liberalized laws by lifting the female driving ban and increasing freedoms for women as well as introducing open access to the arts and culture. He has also led a controversial campaign against perceived corruption 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, the Crown Prince answered questions via a translator about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen, the role of Islam in Saudi Arabia, rights for women and his personal finances.
“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,” he 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 said, detailing how the Saudi interpretation of Islam became more strict in 1979 religious radicals took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. MBS said the austere version of Saudi Arabia often depicted in the Western media 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 events, and launch 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.” On freedoms for women when asked by interviewer Norah O’Donnell about transforming Saudi Arabia into a more moderate society and curbing the powers of the country’s “religious police”, who have historically arrested women for not covering up. He said Sharia law does not specify how a woman should cover up.
“I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington D.C., New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing,” MBS said, defending the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen against rebels, which has escalated the humanitarian crisis there. He added that Iranian-backed rebels used Yemen to fire missiles at Riyadh, the Saudi capital. 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.
“The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology,” said MBS whilst discussing Iran’s impact on Yemen, which he said is plays a “harmful role” in the Middle East.
“Only death,” will stop the young crown prince from his reforms, he said, closing the interview.
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Quotes sourced from CBS News.