Is Mohammad bin Salman a good person

Image problems of the Saudi rulers : The prince's propaganda

The murder of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi, the ruthless crackdown on critics at home, the disastrous war in Yemen. Add to this the pandemic and the plummeting oil price: Saudi Arabia has been in crisis mode for months. The same goes for the de facto ruler of the country, Mohammed bin Salman. Its reputation is battered, the image of the cosmopolitan, courageous modernizer is suffering.

But now the PR strategists of the heir to the throne are trying to counteract this. This is especially true for the external impact of the monarchy. The embarrassing chapter of Khashoggi should finally come to an end. At the same time, the designated successor to the aged King Salman wants to shine with the meeting of the world's 20 most important industrial nations in Riyadh.

In addition, bin Salman would like to buy the British first division soccer club Newcastle United for 340 million euros. However, the image offensive is not going according to plan.

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Part of the staging is that Khashoggi's sons have now been moved to publicly forgive their father's murderers. At the end of the Islamic month of fasting Ramadan, one of them announced on Twitter over the weekend that the regime critic's family acted in the certainty that a person would be rewarded by God for forgiving others.

"You have blood on your hands"

With the gesture, the family saved five convicted Khashoggis murderers from execution. The leadership in Riyadh apparently hopes that calm will gradually return to the case that shows the Crown Prince Mohammed as a ruthless ruler.

Khashoggi was murdered by a killer squad in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Western intelligence services and the United Nations are convinced that this acted with knowledge or even on behalf of the Crown Prince.

But if Mohammed bin Salman - known as MBS - had hoped that the excitement surrounding the Khashoggi murder with the explanation of the sons would have been mistaken. For UN investigator Agnes Callamard, the Twitter statement is only part of a “well-rehearsed justice parody”.

Khashoggi's Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz said no one had the right to forgive the murderers. In the British newspaper "Guardian" she also turned against the planned takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi investment fund. Mohammed bin Salman ruled with "imprisonment, torture and murder," wrote Cengiz.

If the deal happens, the Premier League's reputation will also be damaged. "The people who want to take over Newcastle now have blood on their hands."

The Yemen debacle

MBS also has problems because of the war in Yemen, which it instigated five years ago in the hope of a quick victory, but which is still no end in sight. The insurgent Houthi militias, supported by Saudi archenemy Iran, are expanding their power.

The royal family in Riyadh has long known that the fight cannot be won by military means. Rather, the constant bombing of civilian targets damage the reputation of the rulers. But there doesn't seem to be a strategy to get out of it and save face at the same time.

The drop in oil prices and the pandemic have also plunged Saudi Arabia into economic difficulties that threaten the prince's ambitious reform program. Just recently, the value added tax had to be drastically increased from five to 15 percent because the state coffers lack income.

The G-20 summit - a big stage for the ruler

As the current President of the Council of the G-20 countries, bin Salman wants to use the summit of the industrialized nations in November as a stage for his political vision of the dawn of the age of renewable energies. But the top meeting is likely to be dominated by the raw materials and corona crisis - if the summit comes about at all because of the virus risk.

Domestically, the Saudi heir to the throne continues to draw attention to himself with social changes. After allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive and restricting the powers of the religious police in recent years, he recently abolished corporal punishment and the death penalty for minors.

Only: MBS continues to act with great severity against alleged opponents and any kind of opposition. The British BBC recently reported that the Saudi police had arrested two children of Saad al Jabri, an ex-intelligence officer living in exile in Canada. Apparently, this should force Sabri to return to Saudi Arabia.

Even in the USA, where President Donald Trump has so far rejected all demands for more pressure on Mohammed bin Salman, things could become more uncomfortable for the Crown Prince. According to information from the "New York Times", wealthy relatives of bin Salman's victims in Washington have hired influential lobbyists.

They should change the attitude of the Trump administration and strengthen the criticism of MBS in Congress and in several ministries. In addition, the wealthy clients want to make Saudi Arabia's blatant human rights violations such as torture, executions and the massive harassment of civil rights activists an issue in the American public.

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For a long time, everything went according to plan for the crown prince. His rise from the monarch's favorite son to heir to the throne was rapid, even by Saudi standards. Bin Salman presented himself to his young people as a reformer who would finally lead the ultra-conservative country into the modern age and who promised social freedoms.

The Prince's bulldozer image

That was the prince's charming side. But the ruler also has an inexorable side. As soon as he joined the government, potential rivals were put out of the way. He did not shrink from violence. Now the king's son wants to get rid of the bulldozer image again. But Mohammed bin Salman is still a long way from winning the propaganda battle.

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