These are heady times in Saudi Arabia, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues a series of changes—including liberalization in some areas, such as allowing women to drive, and crackdowns in others, through detention or imprisonment of activists.
The pace of change, as well as admiring coverage in some precincts of the Western media, has perhaps obscured a crucial question: Can it last? MbS may be the toast of the town now, but he could also become toast, and a trio of Saudi watchers warn that the changes he has put in place could easily be reversed.
“I don’t think this way of doing business will survive,” said Hala Aldosari, a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies who works on women’s rights. She made the comments Tuesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “He antagonized a lot of people. His legitimacy is now more external than internal. He does not have the support of the people.”
Karen Young, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, echoed Aldosari’s analysis. “What I hear from Saudis is this is a year and a half looking forward that’s extremely delicate,” she said. “There’s great wanting for something to work, and the UAE feels the same way … but it’s a critical moment right now.”