Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 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 Jamal Khashoggi, a self-exiled Saudi journalist now living in the US. "Now nobody will dare to speak and criticise the reform ... It would be much better for him to allow a breathing space for critics, for Saudi intellectuals, Saudi writers, Saudi media to debate."

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.

"This futuristic city [in Tabuk] that [bin Salman] is planning to invest half a trillion dollars in it. What if it goes wrong? It could bankrupt the country. But no one [is] allowed to write an objective piece in any newspaper [about it]," says Khashoggi.

Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation, a think-tank, 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 Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), 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. 

Source: Al Jazeera News