Saudi crown prince can win support of Americans

By Claude Salhani, The Arab Weekly
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 27 (UPI) -- There will be no ticker-tape parade down Main Street, USA, for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia during his three-week visit to the United States. This is unlike what greeted his grandfather, King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

When the Saudi monarch visited the United States for the first time in 1957, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower greeted him at the airport and the two leaders drove through town standing in an open limousine, waving to the crowds.


Much has changed since then. To begin with, world leaders no longer ride in open limousines, especially not Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, one of the most guarded men in the world, and with good reason.

If the 32-year-old crown prince, who is set to be the next Saudi monarch, gets his way, much more is going to change in Saudi Arabia, a staunchly conservative society where change must be done carefully and in small steps.


The crown prince is cognizant that, if his country is to prosper and keep up with world markets, change is needed. Indications are that Mohammed will accomplish what he has started out to do.

He is running much of the kingdom's day-to-day affairs, taking a load off his 82-year-old and ailing father.

Mohammed has a grand plan to introduce much-needed economic reforms; address corruption, which has been draining about 10 percent of the country's budget; and emancipate women in Saudi Arabia where they have some ways to go before securing gender equality.

The crown prince knows a society cannot advance while alienating half of the population based on gender if the aim is a vibrant and competing society that is integrated in the modern world.

So as a first step, Mohammed lifted the ban on women driving. As of June, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive cars in the kingdom.

Another major change is the power previously accorded to religious police, the mutawaa. Although the religious police continue to harangue people for whatever reason they deem unfit, from inappropriate clothing to improper behavior, they no longer have the authority to arrest anyone.

Perhaps sensing the inescapable changes approaching, many of the religious police pledged allegiance to the crown prince.


While focused on the task ahead and paying attention to the needs for reform in the social and economic spheres, Mohammed obviously hopes the changes he intends to implement should carry Saudi Arabia into the next millennium.

However, over the next three weeks, the crown prince will face a seriously difficult task: convincing the American people that Saudi Arabia remains a loyal and truthful U.S. ally.

Previous U.S. administrations, be they Democratic or Republican, have considered Saudi Arabia a reliable U.S. ally despite differences of opinion on numerous issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to how to handle threats emanating from larger groups such as the Islamic State.

For Saudi Arabia, the problem lies with the American public. The American people look at Saudi Arabia through a very different lens with preset notions.

Mention Saudi Arabia to the average American and what instantly pops into his head is the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudi citizens, as was Osama bin Laden, the man who orchestrated and financed the attacks. More recently, there is the Saudi backing of Islamist groups fighting in Syria. Americans disagree with the manner the Saudis conduct judicial procedures.


Most Americans know little, if anything, about Saudi Arabia. That's why Mohammed's visit to the United States has a lot to do with rebranding his country.

At the end of the day, the United States needs Saudi oil and the Saudis need U.S. protection, especially from Iran, which the Saudis regard as a real threat. The crown prince told CBS News' 60 Minutes that it was important for Saudi Arabia to win the support of the American public.

If he comes across as open and genuine, as he did in the 60 Minutes interview, he may well merit a ticker-tape parade, though the open limo would still be hard to arrange.

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

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