Ask any westerner what they think Saudi Arabia is like and they will probably respond negatively. After all, the country’s illiberal attitudes and barbaric criminal justice system are very much at odds with Western democratic traditions. Nonetheless, the West does a lot of business with Saudi Arabia. And in recent years, the Middle Eastern nation has been working with London-based public relations companies to try and transform its international image.
These efforts appear to be under the direction of Mohammed bin Salman (also known as “MBS”). In 2017, MBS became crown prince of Saudi Arabia and officially took his place as first-in-line to the country’s throne. Since then, several London-based publishers and PR firms have been peddling the narrative that he is challenging the nation’s ultraconservative establishment. MBS, it would seem, is a “moderate,” a reformer and even a de facto liberal.
However, on October 2, 2018, writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul. According to the Turkish authorities, he was murdered, beheaded and dismembered. The Saudis, however, maintained that he died during a “fist fight.” In fact, Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the crown prince. And international human rights organizations pointed out that dozens of dissenting journalists, writers, clerics and activists have been arrested in Saudi Arabia since September 2017.