If you’re like me then you do your damnedest to censor all the ugliness that is perpetrated and exhibited around the world. Every once in a while however a series of events seeps into my field of view and forces me out of my self-imposed exile in order to bear witness to the depths of mankind’s depravity.
It all started after watching The Kingdom, Peter Berg’s action packed Hollywood drama about a group of FBI agents who disobey their superiors and enter Saudi Arabia to investigate and hunt down the terrorists responsible for a deadly explosion. The movie was both captivating and surprisingly educational and left me with a clearer understanding of the delicate balance that exists in the oil rich nation.
Ever since then I’ve been coming across Saudi Arabia in my news feed and Mohammed Bin Salman, its crown prince. Colloquially known as MBS, he has been the subject of daily headlines following the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist and an outspoken critic and had been a US resident since last year.
While MBS and the Saudi authorities played dumb, they eventually conceded that the attack had been premeditated and was orchestrated by a fifteen-man team who had strangled Khashoggi before hacking his body to pieces with a bone-saw. The horrific incident has since brought condemnation to MBS by re-casting the spotlight on the war in Yemen, a conflict that has displaced over a million Yemeni citizens to date.
This sobering NYTimes article by Declan Walsh explains the changing nature of the conflict as one directed on the economy. What started as a full frontal attack on the Houthi rebels in Northern Yemen has now given way to a more insidious form of warfare. Economic tariffs, withheld salaries (affecting over a million civil servants) and rampant inflation now threaten to tip “the country into a famine of catastrophic proportions.”
“This is an income famine. The key to stopping it is to ensure that people have enough money to buy what they need to survive.” — Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
Listening to The Daily podcast this morning helped to put the pieces together. According to NYTimes journalist Mark Landler, MBS owes his inauguration to the American President. Following Donald Trump’s ascension to office, he paid a visit to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip overseas (an unprecedented historical move) and closed an arms deal valued at $110 billion dollars.
A few months later, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia (MBS’ father) tapped him as his successor. Within a matter of months following his rise however, MBS removed his mask and got down to the real business of consolidating power (locking up hundreds of influential businessmen in the Ritz-Carlton and coercing billions in restitution) and punishing anyone that stood in his way .
While the Sunni monarchy has been working hard to improve its global brand by easing restrictions on women and opening up avenues for entertainment, such reforms pale in the shadow of these egregious actions.
I’d like to believe that what goes around comes around but I’m too old to believe in fairytales.