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In Saudi Arabia, the Prince has no Clothes

"His capricious and absolutist decisions will only lead to disaster. But the only choice we have is to applaud him, emigrate, or be jailed—and in the worst case, have our throats slashed."

Credits TEXT: Hanaa Alkhamri Translation: Barrie James Sutcliffe September 11 2018

Hana Al-Khamri is a Yemeni who grew up in Saudi Arabia, where she worked as a journalist for five years in a local newspaper in an office segregated from male colleagues. Al-Khamri has a background in Journalism and Peace and Conflict Studies.  Today, she is a writer and commentator on women’s rights issues and the political development in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Al-Khamri is in the process of writing her debut book on female journalists in Saudi Arabia, and it is set to be published next year. Moreover, she is the founder of the Yemeni Salon, a platform to discuss Yemen's political and cultural affairs in Sweden. 

Three years ago, crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman popped up on the Arabian Peninsula, raging across the earth sowing conflict, slashing the jugular of free speech, stoning freedom of expression, and filling prisons with those having different opinions. He plays many roles at once: militarist, politician, and economist, all with the mind of a policeman. He is even the champion of entertainment and charity. He has been bestowed with all the awards of the land one can possibly receive, and even let some of them go to his brothers. And he surrounds himself with a new, unreservedly devoted, oligarchy.

One evening, his subjects could be heard whispering in cafés that their young prince has drained the people’s resources on a catastrophic and devastating war, creating armed conflicts in neighboring nations, and that he obviously doesn’t give a shit that his people have been affected by rising prices and fat rents and swelling electricity and water bills.

Citizens began paying for all services. They whispered that normal people now pay half their salaries for austerity politics, and that the migrant workers have become sacrificial lambs suffering the consequences of the regime’s mistakes, forced to pay huge sums to stay in the kingdom of the two holy mosques. The people must pay unjust taxes while this youngster wastes their millions on fairy tale castles, fine art, and luxury yachts.

One subject whispered: that youngster lacks experience to lead. His capricious and absolutist decisions will only lead to disaster. But the only choice we have is to applaud him, emigrate, or be jailed—and in the worst case, have our throats slashed.

One beautiful day, a dubious consultancy firm arrived to give advice to the government and the king. These firm travels across the world to sell illusions, claiming that only the prudent and wise can truly understand their magnanimous plans and big ideas. The youngster had heard about them and ordered his court to invite them. The meeting took place, and without hesitation he showered them with huge sums of cash. The firm promised the new autocratic regime magnificent visions about which everyone else would be jealous. The consultants emphasize that only the wise and savvy have the capacity to comprehend the end results of the plans they mean to propose. Those who cannot see the advantages in their way of thinking belong those less intelligent ranks.

After a while, the young prince sent his minister to check out how the work with the visions of the future was going. The minister was scared that he would fail to understand these grand visions. The consultants explained the amazing changes the nation’s economy would experience, which had been damaged by sinking oil prices long before the new visions even began to take form. But the minister really couldn’t see those changes, and also didn’t understand what the visions were supposed to be built upon in the first place. He anyway asserted to the prince that the visions were very nice. He said they contained powerfully beautiful images of neoliberalism.

The people applauded. The newspapers wrote that they had never before seen such a lovely economy as this, and that the young prince was a fantastic and revolutionary reformer who will cure the people of their oil addiction.

The young price allowed himself to be interviewed by the international media and was depicted clothed in his new visions. The people again applauded and looked forward to finding out more about them. A great carnival was arranged to display the new visions. His majesty’s portrait was raised across the city. His underlings cheered, not in delight, but rather in fear. No sooner had the young prince captured the nation’s heart, then a voice rang out: “But this vision is bare!” Another cried: “Why were we not allowed to take part in crafting these visions?” After a while, his subjects saw that these visions were nothing more than pretty words, lacking any content or realistic solutions. The number of those in poverty rose, while the rich got richer. They saw that there were no checks and balances in the young price’s decision. They saw how the middle class had been left behind for the whimsy of the market and monopoly. They saw that there was no civil society that could protect the individual, and that the regime had remade the economic system without any corresponding political or democratic changes.

A bold writer and expert of the economy raised his voice, criticizing the visions. He pointed out all the mistakes and vagaries they contained. He warned the nation was selling out its natural resources. The king arrested him. Many others criticized the autocratic regime and its conflicts with bordering nations. They too were arrested, and some were forced to flee.

When the visions failed to achieve their promised changes, the prince realized that his advisers had lied about the magical powers the visions were supposed to have. He saw that his cousins had a malicious hidden agenda. He arrested them and held them in luxury prisons, forcing them to pay dearly for his freedom to ease his own economic burden. He demanded from them total, unhesitating loyalty.

To dampen the people’s anger, he opened the nation to circuses, cinemas, wrestling matches, and concerts. He handed out breadcrumbs, reinstating the bonuses and small privileges enjoyed by social servants and the military. Meanwhile, he led campaigns for silencing critical voices. Writers drowned in silence and filled the nation’s prisons, while the world hailed the young tyrant for allowing women to drive—while taking from them the right to speak. He gave women necklaces and better careers at the same time as he held his own mother under house arrest, so she could not rebel against him.

The world is occupied with the elegant young prince’s decrees, while the free word hides itself in fear, the free word that is stoned and whipped. There is no solace for women, who he keeps under his political mantle, so they cannot be heard. There is no comfort for the true reformers forced into silence in the prisons of the prince—the naked king.

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