When he hosted last October’s glittering global investment conference in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had the world at his fingertips.

by Karen DeYoung/Kareem Fahim, New Zealand Herald 2018

Mohammed and people who know him assert that his Western admirers have always misunderstood his intentions, projecting their own hopes for the transformation of Saudi Arabia onto a prince who is the antithesis of the cautious, elderly leadership that has ruled the kingdom for decades, and seemed brash enough to push through his modernisation plans.

“He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s authoritarian. He’s not embarrassed by it,” said one person close to the royal court who, like most of those interviewed for this article, spoke only on the condition of anonymity to offer frank assessments. “He definitely sees himself in messianic terms, as a man of history,” the person said, adding that Mohammed “cares deeply about the country.”

While Mohammed’s fans in the West have seen him as a future Lee Kuan Yew, the modernising first premier of Singapore, MBS himself is known to refer to China, with its authoritarian leadership and soaring economy, as a better model for Saudi Arabia. He has chafed at the criticism of his human rights record, complaining that it has received more Western scrutiny than that of Russian President Vladimir Putin or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I didn’t call myself a reformer,” the crown prince said in a Bloomberg News interview this month.

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