Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t apologize for much. In the past year, his government has massacred civilians in Yemen, kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon and spent $450 million of unknown provenance on a painting while rounding up hundreds of people for alleged corruption. He’s publiclydefended those actions.
But there’s one thing the crown prince is always willing to express remorse about: Islam, or at least the version dominant in his country. “We were victims,” he recently told “60 Minutes.”
Crown Prince Mohammed’s pitch to governments, citizens and, most importantly, investors, explicitly plays on global Islamophobia and many Muslims’ own frustrations about the violence committed in the name of their religion. It neatly identifies Islam as a problem and the prince as the solution. And this summer is supposed to bring a marquee moment for the battle against fundamentalist Islam the crown prince says he’s fighting: On June 24, women will gain the legal right to drive in Saudi Arabia.
But the “reformer” prince’s rhetoric is colliding with the reality of his rule. Since May 15, his government has been arresting human rights advocates — among them some of the most prominent Saudi women activists — in a crackdown that perpetuates long-standing Saudi repression.
Crown Prince Mohammed's pitch to governments, citizens and, most importantly, investors, explicitly plays on global Islamophobia and many Muslims’ own frustrations about the violence committed in the name of their religion.
The crown prince’s playbook is an old one. For strongmen in the Muslim-majority world, the trope of the scary...