The Atlantic Daily: Mohammed bin Salman’s Absolute Power

In our new magazine cover story, Mohammed bin Salman gives his first interview with non-Saudi press in two years. Then: Read our latest Russia-Ukraine coverage.

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In 2018, the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman—known as MBS—had ordered the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who is thought to have been dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“For about two years, MBS hid from public view, as if hoping the Khashoggi murder would be forgotten,” our staff writer Graeme Wood argues. “It hasn’t been.”

Over the past three years, Graeme traveled to Saudi Arabia to study MBS’s attempts at modernizing his father’s kingdom—which have included rounding up the country’s wealthy and imprisoning them in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on corruption charges—and consider what a King Mohammed, should the ruthless crown prince ascend the throne, might look like.

He and editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed MBS twice, once in his palace in Riyadh and once in a remote palace by the Red Sea, in recent months. Here are three major themes of the story, which you can read in full here.

Khashoggi’s murder

MBS denied having ordered the killing. “To our astonishment,” Graeme writes, “he added that if he were to send a kill squad, he’d choose a more valuable target, and more competent assassins. ‘If that’s the way we did things’—murdering authors of critical op-eds—‘Khashoggi would not even be among the top 1,000 people on the list.’”

U.S.-Saudi relations

The White House has called for accountability for Khashoggi’s murder, and refuses to treat MBS as the president’s equal, arguing that the king is Joe Biden’s counterpart. “We have a long, historical relationship with America,” the crown prince said. “Our aim is to keep it and strengthen it.” Still, as Graeme recalls from the interview, “alienating the Saudi monarchy, [MBS] suggested, would harm Biden’s position. ‘It’s up to him to think about the interests of America.’ He gave a shrug. ‘Go for it.’”

Saudi Arabia’s future

In the five years the crown prince has led his father’s kingdom, he has opened it to foreigners, reined in the country’s religious police, planned a futuristic city called Neom, and trained captured jihadists to start and run businesses from prison. “MBS has completed about three-quarters of the transition from tribal king with theocratic characteristics to plain old secular-nationalist autocrat,” Graeme writes. “The rest of that transition need not be as ruthless as the beginning, but MBS shows no sign of letting up.”

Continue reading.

A man walks through a war zone in Ukraine while carrying a small girl. They are dressed in winter coats. Another girl, wearing a hat and a blue winter coat, walks behind them. A soldier wearing fatigues is visible on the right and an overturned car is shown in the background.
(Emilio Morenatti / AP)

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