The crown prince has big plans to bring back a level of tolerance to his society... It’s been a long, long time, though, since any Arab leader wore me out with a fire hose of new ideas about transforming his country... It’s “ludicrous,” he said, to suggest that this anticorruption campaign was a power grab. He pointed out that many prominent members of the Ritz crowd had already publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms, and that “a majority of the royal family” is already behind him.. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year.. So when his father, who has never been tainted by corruption charges during his nearly five decades as governor of Riyadh, ascended to the throne in 2015 (at a time of falling oil prices), he vowed to put a stop to it all, M.B.S. said:“My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption — at the top. This team worked for two years until they collected the most accurate information, and then they came up with about 200 names.”.. each suspected billionaire or prince was arrested and given two choices: “We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement,” which means signing over cash or shares of their business to the Saudi state treasury... “How much money are they recovering?” I asked.
The public prosecutor says it could eventually “be around $100 billion in settlements,” said M.B.S.
.. Saudi business people who paid bribes to get services done by bureaucrats are not being prosecuted, explained M.B.S. “It’s those who shook the money out of the government” — by overcharging and getting kickbacks.
.. Not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for this anticorruption drive. The Saudi silent majority is clearly fed up with the injustice of so many princes and billionaires ripping off their country.
.. The first is to bring Saudi Islam back to its more open and modern orientation — whence it diverted in 1979. That is, back to what M.B.S. described to a recent global investment conference here as a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.”
.. in 1979, and so much of the region that I have covered since was shaped by the three big events of that year:
- the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Saudi puritanical extremists — who denounced the Saudi ruling family as corrupt, impious sellouts to Western values;
- the Iranian Islamic revolution; and
- the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
.. These three events together freaked out the Saudi ruling family at the time, and prompted it to try to shore up its legitimacy by allowing its Wahhabi clerics to impose a much more austere Islam on the society and by launching a worldwide competition with Iran’s ayatollahs over who could export more fundamentalist Islam.
.. It didn’t help that the U.S. tried to leverage this trend by using Islamist fighters against Russia in Afghanistan. In all, it pushed Islam globally way to the right and helped nurture 9/11.
.. M.B.S. is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the center.
.. He has not only curbed the authority of the once feared Saudi religious police to berate a woman for not covering every inch of her skin, he has also let women drive
.. unlike any Saudi leader before him, he has taken the hard-liners on ideologically
.. “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and [daily life in] Saudi Arabia before 1979.”
.. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he argued, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia. “The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman!”
.. Then one of his ministers got out his cellphone and shared with me pictures and YouTube videos of Saudi Arabia in the 1950s — women without heads covered, wearing skirts and walking with men in public, as well as concerts and cinemas. It was still a traditional and modest place, but not one where fun had been outlawed, which is what happened after 1979.
.. Toby Keith held a men-only concert here in September, where he even sang with a Saudi, and that Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji will be among the first woman singers to perform a women-only concert
.. M.B.S told me, it was just decided that women will be able to go to stadiums and attend soccer games. The Saudi clerics have completely acquiesced.
.. Iran’s “supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,” said M.B.S.