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Soccer fans in Saudi Arabia cheer as they hold up pictures of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 5, 2017 (AP photo).

The Rise of an Upstart Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia Splits American Experts

Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017

The drama surrounding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to captivate policy communities around the world. Is MBS, as the upstart royal is known, a genuine reformer or a reckless and ambitious young leader who has more power than he has wisdom? He is strongly identified with Saudi Arabia’s costly war in neighboring Yemen, the nearly six-month diplomatic standoff with Qatar and the geopolitical struggle with Iran. At home, he has spearheaded ambitious plans to open up social space, reinvent the political system and adapt the kingdom’s economic strategies for a changing world energy landscape.

The rise of MBS has triggered polarized views among American experts about him and about the long legacy of U.S.-Saudi relations. Some view this dynamic moment in the kingdom through the prism of American security interests and the durability of a mutually important security partnership. They hope MBS’ reforms will make the kingdom a more open and reliable partner. Other experts have long fretted about U.S. commitments to such a distinctly different and nondemocratic country, and one that the U.S. has never really challenged on its historic ties to Muslim extremists and its poor human rights record at home. They see a new, more aggressive authoritarian in MBS, cloaked in selective liberalization gestures toward youth and women. ...

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