Don’t be fooled by the comforting rhetoric coming from Saudi Arabia’s crown prince
The younger generation of Al Saud rulers — represented by the recently appointed crown prince — have created the illusion of a “new” Saudi Arabia, one defined by youth, moderation and liberalization. But far from embodying a break with “traditional” Saudi rule, the new generation has simply doubled down on the tried and tested approaches to modern Saudi statecraft.
Like its predecessors, the current regime uses great repressive force to maintain its rule. It relies on the very same programs of reform and modernization to shore up international support while exacerbating sectarian tensions and violently crushing all forms of political opposition, including the very forces of moderation it purports to support.
The timing of these announcements speaks to the regime’s desperate need for a victory to cover up its many domestic and regional failures, to increase confidence in the regime’s commitment to reform and to provide fodder for its all-out war against domestic opposition and regional rivals. This is not to say that change in Saudi Arabia is not possible, nor to discount the efforts of thousands of Saudis who have risked so much to improve their living situations. But in the hands of relentless dictators in such an authoritarian context, “change” is elusive at best.