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Bobby Ghosh

MBS Is the Prince of Mixed Messages

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler gave full rein to his dual personalities in 2019. 

Which prince?

Which prince?

Photographer: Ryad Kramdi/AFP

Is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a reformer or a reactionary? The answer, maddening to those who love him as much as to those who loathe him, is that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler might just be both those things.

In a year when he was under especially close international scrutiny, thanks to the grotesque late-2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the prince — arguably the Middle East’s most important figure — gave free rein to both sides of his public persona, presiding over both reform and repression. It did nothing to alter the impression of MBS, as he is commonly known, as a man who wants to have his cake as well as eat it.