What Donald Trump refused to do—rein in the ruthless crown prince of Saudi Arabia—the coronavirus pandemic seems to be accomplishing, at least in the short term. But the prince also exploits it for his own ends.
Since 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman started appropriating power from his enfeebled father, King Salman, five years ago, he has sought fame as a visionary reformer but gained infamy as a tyrant waging a fruitless war, jailing and torturing potential rivals, and employing the sycophant who butchered (not too strong a word) Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Still, MBS, as he’s known, got a pass from Trump in exchange for promised billions in arms deals.
But the pandemic is not so kind. It has afflicted at least 20 senior members of the Saudi royal family, including the governor of Riyadh, according to a senior prince and another well-connected Saudi contacted by The Daily Beast. There are widespread concerns among health workers and epidemiologists that it will spread through the much less privileged parts of Saudi society, including a large population of laborers and servants brought in from other countries.
This comes on top of multiple calamities created or made worse by MBS. But over the last few days he has moved to try resolve some of his self-inflicted messes, while continuing to crack down on anyone in the kingdom who might question his authority.
One of MBS’s recent rash acts was to start a punishing oil price war when Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to limit production. The oil market plunged to levels not seen in years, dragging down world equity markets (and sending a psycho-political shockwave into the Dow-Jones-addicted White House). But on Thursday, the Saudi-led Organization for the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia agreed to major production cuts. There are still some issues to be worked out, but MBS is no longer racing toward the abyss.