Is Saudi Arabia’s crown prince really a reformer?

We debate the extent of reforms in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the war in Yemen.

In this week’s UpFront, we discuss reform in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In a special Arena, self-exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi debates Ali Shihabi, the founder of the Arabia Foundation and Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Also on UpFront, as Donald Trump takes full credit for 2017 economic growth in the United States, we set the record straight with a Reality Check on the “Trump Bump”.

Arena: Is Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman really a reformer?

The 32-year-old crown prince, known colloquially in the West as MBS, is touring the world touting the anti-corruption and pro-women reforms he has initiated in his country.

While bin Salman has been praised by some as a revolutionary, rights groups have voiced concern, pointing to the continued crackdown on dissent within the kingdom, and to alleged war crimes committed in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.

“As we speak today, there are Saudi intellectuals and journalists jailed,” says Khashoggi, who now lives in the US. “Now, nobody will dare to speak and criticise the reform.”

Bin Salman’s $500bn development of the futuristic city Neom is an example of a controversial policy that Khashoggi says could bankrupt the country if it fails.

“But no one is allowed to write an objective piece in any newspaper,” he adds. 

Shihabi praises the reforms, arguing the cutting of subsidies, restructuring of the economy and allowing women to drive and have greater access to the workplace are significant in a national context.

“Nobody has been able to carry out dramatic change in the developing world successfully under a pluralistic system,” says Shihabi. “You need a benevolent autocracy.”

The crown prince and the Saudi-led coalition have also been criticised for their role in the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“They are responsible for the overwhelming amount of human suffering that we are seeing in Yemen right now,” says Whitson, who adds that recent HRW reports show that more 6,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen, of which 60 percent are attributed to air raids by the Saudi-led coalition. 

Reality Check: Is the Trump Bump real?

Trump claims the economy is booming under his leadership, taking full credit for gross domestic profit (GDP) growth since he took office.

But according to the US Department of Commerce, real GDP growth in 2017 was 2.3 percent, roughly the same average growth since the end of the Great Recession.

Trump has also praised the level of job creation taking place in the country, but while impressive, the almost two million jobs created in 2017 is the smallest year-over-year increase since 2009.

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