Saudi Murderers: Khashoggi’s body parts transported in suitcases

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA NEWS AGENCY)

 

Khashoggi’s body parts transported in suitcases: Report

Corpse of Saudi journalist was dismembered and put into five suitcases after he was strangled, Turkish daily reports.

Khashoggi's body parts transported in suitcases: Report
Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, right, entered Turkey through Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on October 2 [Sabah via AP]

Jamal Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and put into five suitcases after he was strangled upon entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul last month, according to a report by a Turkish pro-government newspaper.

Citing unnamed officials, Sabah reported on Sunday that the suitcases were then taken to the Saudi consul-general’s residence near the consulate the day the journalist – a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS – was killed on October 2.

The officials said that Maher Mutreb, Salah Tubeigy and Thaar al-Harbi were the three key figures from a 15-member hit squad reportedly involved in dismembering Khashoggi’s body and removing it from the premises.

Mutreb was a direct aide to MBS, while Tubeigy was the head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics and a colonel in the kingdom’s army.

Al-Harbi was reportedly promoted to lieutenant in the Saudi royal guard last year for bravery in the defence of the crown prince’s palace in Jeddah.

Sabah’s report came 48 hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he believed that the order to kill the journalist came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi state.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Istanbul, said on Sunday the latest information added detail to the picture being formulated by Turkish prosecutors who say Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered soon after entering the building.

Simmons said that Mutreb, a senior intelligence official, appeared to be leading the operation, while Tubeigy has experience in forensic pathology.

CCTV footage shows the three individuals travelled in a number of vehicles from the consulate to the consul-general’s residence 200 metres away after Khashoggi’s murder at about 3pm.

Less than two hours later, Mutreb is seen leaving the residence, according to the footage.

It is at the residence that they reportedly disposed of the body parts, although it is unknown how this was done.

“This is a looming question. No one knows where the body went,” Simmons said. “One Turkish official is reported saying that there was acid used to dissolve the bodies; there’s another report that the well shaft was used in the garden of the consul-general’s residence – it is unclear,” he added.

“There is a real concern now that the Saudis aren’t being open enough with the Turkish investigators. Furthermore, on a political level, [there is] a big concern that world attention is beginning to wane somewhat on this whole case and whether or not the US is prepared to take firm action against the Saudis that Turkey wants to see.”

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Jamal Khashoggi case: All the latest updates

With a joint Turkish and Saudi probe into Khashoggi’s fate making little progress so far, Erdogan on Friday called on Saudi Arabia to answer outstanding questions concerning the 59-year-old’s killing.

“We must reveal the identities of the puppet masters behind Khashoggi’s killing,” Erdogan wrote in an opinion piece published by US newspaper The Washington Post.

‘Dismembered and dissolved’

Also on Friday, Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Erdogan and a friend of Khashoggi’s, said the team that killed the journalist cut up his body in order to dissolve for easier disposal.

“According to the latest information we have, the reason they dismembered his body is to dissolve it easier,” he told Hurriyet newspaper.

“They aimed to ensure no sign of the body was left.”

A senior Turkish official has told Al Jazeera the journalist’s body was dismembered and dissolved in acid, without offering evidence.

Riyadh initially denied Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate but, following intense international pressure and after changing its narrative numerous times, the Saudi prosecutor admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a “premeditated” manner.

Still, Turkish officials have accused the Saudis of failing to answer questions regarding the case.

Two of them relate to the identity of a “local collaborator” to whom Saudi officials claimed to have handed over Khashoggi’s remains, as well as the identity of the person who ordered the killing.

On Wednesday, a senior Turkish official said the Saudi side appeared unwilling to “genuinely cooperate” with Turkey;s investigation.

“The Saudi officials seemed primarily interested in finding out what evidence the Turkish authorities had against the perpetrators,” the official told AFP news agency on the condition of anonymity.

“We did not get the impression that they were keen on genuinely cooperating with the investigation.”

The Saudis have also launched their own investigation, vowing to “uncover every stone” and “punish” those who are responsible.

A spokesperson for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party said on Wednesday Khashoggi’s killing could not have been made possible without orders from someone in a senior position.

Omar Celik told reporters in Ankara that Turkey would not let anyone cover up Khashoggi’s killing, adding that it was not possible for Saudi officials to still not know the body’s whereabouts.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

Saudi Crown Prince: Khashoggi’s Killers Will Be Brought to Justice

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Crown Prince: Khashoggi’s Killers Will Be Brought to Justice

(WHAT IS THE CROWN PRINCE GOING TO DO, HANG HIMSELF? IS IT MORE LIKELY HE WILL FIND 15 OTHER ENEMIES TO BLAME, AND HANG THEM?)
Wednesday, 24 October, 2018 – 17:00
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at FII 2018 in Riyadh. (SPA)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, described on Wednesday the murder of a citizen Jamal Khashoggi as “ugly and painful” to Saudis and the world.

“We are working with Turkey to uncover the truth and complete the investigations. We will bring the criminals to justice,” he told the Future Investment Initiative forum that is being held in Riyadh.

Some sides are exploiting the Khashoggi case to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, he continued.

“I want to send them a message that they cannot do this as long as King Salman is here, and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in Saudi Arabia and the head of Turkey, whose name is (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan … this division won’t happen.”

On the economy, Prince Mohammed said: “Numbers will speak about the improvement of the Saudi economy.”

“We will continue to develop our country and no one will stop us,” he vowed.

“I believe the new Europe will be the Middle East and the region will be different in five years’ time,” he stated.

Why the Arab World Needs Democracy Now

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

(BY JAMAL KHASHOGGI)

Why the Arab World Needs Democracy Now

In April Jamal Khashoggi gave this speech, saying the dangerous idea of the benevolent autocrat, the just dictator, is being revived in the Arab world.

By Jamal Khashoggi

Mr. Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist.

Image
A Saudi flag at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where Jamal Khashoggi was killed. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Press — Getty Images

Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist who was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, was the keynote speaker at a conference in April organized by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington. Excerpts from his speech, edited for clarity and length, are below.

I am from Saudi Arabia, where the issues of democracy and Islam are very much relevant. When a Saudi official wanted to brush away the question of democracy, in the past, he would always raise the question of whether democracy is compatible with Islam.

The debate about the relationship between Islam and democracy conclusively ended with the coming of the Arab Spring, when the people of the Arab world, — especially the youth, and even the Islamist, including some Salafis, who were always critical of democracy — supported the protests for democratic and political change. Other Salafis remained very critical of democracy, viewing it as “kufr,” or un-Islamic, based on the belief that democracy represents a rejection of religious values.

The long voting lines during the 2012 elections in Tunisia and Egypt clearly demonstrated that the people of the Arab world were ready for change. They enthusiastically participated in democratic elections, including Islamist parties that had often been the focus of the debate on Islam’s compatibility with democracy.

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Those images from Egypt and Tunisia of men, women, young, and old going to the polls should be contrasted with the sham elections we see today in Egypt and in other parts of the Arab world. This is an argument we can use against anyone who might claim that “Arabs are not ready for democracy.”

Today, Saudi Arabia is struggling with different aspects of modernity — with cinemas, art, entertainment, mixing of the sexes, opening up to the world, rejecting radicalism. The tight grip that the religious establishment has had on social life is gradually loosening.

But while we’re pursuing all these forms of modernity, the Saudi leaders are still not interested in democracy, They aren’t advancing the old, lame excuse that democracy is not compatible with Islam, however. Instead, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic they’re saying that absolute monarchy is our preferred form of government.

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Indeed, we are living in the age of authoritarianism. Some people believe that it is a better form of political rule. They argue that societies need a great leader and that democracy will undermine the ability of the great leader to guide his people to a better future.

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Today around a dinner table in Riyadh, Cairo or Amman, you are likely to hear intellectuals who were once considered liberals, who once supported liberty, political change and democracy, say, “Arabs are not ready for democracy.” If you push back against this argument, you would be told: “Even if Arabs are ready for democracy, they don’t know how to take advantage of it. They always make the wrong choice.”

A related argument is, “The Islamist and the Muslim Brotherhood have kidnapped the Arab Spring.” In my country, a variant of this argument is: “The Saudis don’t know how to choose. If we have democracy, they will not vote out of their conscience, they will vote based on their tribal loyalties.”

A popular argument in the Arab world is that we need a strong leader. You can hear it in Egypt from an Egyptian businessman who supports the ruling regime. You can hear it from a doubtful Jordanian, maybe even a doubtful Tunisian who seeks a return to the old order.

A Saudi friend of mine who was raised abroad openly defends the term “benevolent autocracy.” He is prepared to write about the value of benevolent autocracy in an American newspaper and thinks it is the best choice for Saudi Arabia.

It is the old notion of the “mustabidu al-adl,” or the just dictator, that died with the rise of Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, a late-19th-century Arab-Muslim reformist of Syrian origin. The Arab and Muslim intellectuals who followed Kawakibi supported democracy or at least some variant of it.

Regrettably, though, the idea of the benevolent autocrat, the just dictator, is being revived in the Arab world. A chorus of anti-democratic Arab and non-Arab voices are using the media and the lobbyists to oppose democracy. I’m told that at the Riyadh International Book Fair in March, which I was not able to attend, one of the books on display was called “Against the Arab Spring.”

Democracy in the Arab world is also under attack from radical Islamists who are making a comeback as the so-called Islamic State or as the Salafis fighting in Libya alongside Khalifa Hifter (who was a general in Muammar Gaddafi’s army and is now backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt). They preach against democracy in the mosques — and through acts of violence.

We must reassure people in the Arab world who either have lost hope in democracy because of its perceived failures or because they fell victim to the concentrated propaganda about democracy coming from television networks run by states and the intellectuals aligned with them.

When I use the term “democracy” I mean it in the broader sense of the term that overlaps with values such as liberty, checks and balances, accountability and transparency. We were aiming for these goals in the form of good governance, equality, and justice in the Arab world. There is another reason we need democracy now in the Arab world: to stop mass violence.

Today, there are two kinds of Arab countries. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco, need democracy for good governance and the checks and balances it brings.

But for war-torn countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen, democracy would lead to some form of power sharing. It can be along the lines of the Afghanistan arrangement, where you bring all of the factions in one huge room and force them into an agreement on how to share power. The chief reason the wars in these countries are continuing is the lack of a mechanism for power sharing.

The immediate need for Libya, Syria and Yemen is not good governance, but a mechanism to stop the killing. Inevitably, the question of good governance will emerge. There is great hope for democracy in other countries that have not been mired in civil or internal conflict, such as Tunisia, which is struggling toward a lasting democratic system.

Many of my Tunisian friends, despite the progress they have made, are also worried about democracy. They do not want to appear to be preaching to the rest of the Arab world. They simply want to be left alone. Yet I still think that Tunisians have an important responsibility.

News channels that are supportive of freedom and political change in the Middle East should spend a considerable amount of time covering even municipal elections in Tunisia. Every Saudi, every Egyptian and every Syrian should see what the Tunisians are enjoying. I hope it will inspire the rest of the Arab world to work for a similar form of government for themselves.

We need to defend the rights of the Arab people to have democracy in our own countries, in our own localities, but at the same time we must speak to foreign leaders, foreign powers and foreign parliamentarians. They have a role to play and many of them have begun to lose hope in the prospects of Arab democracy.

Some of them are now repeating the old racist statement, “Arabs are not ready for democracy [because they are Arabs].” The Trump administration has zero interest in supporting democracy in the Arab world. Even the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has suggested that there will be little political change in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia.

People are losing hope in democracy because of the failure of the Arab Spring revolts. They’re afraid of ending up like Syria. Many Arab regimes, their television networks, their writers, their commentators, are trying to scare people off democracy by actively promoting this idea.

Both Arab citizens and foreign leaders are affected by the limited reforms that Arab leaders are pursuing. In Saudi Arabia there are serious reforms that Prince Mohammed is leading. Many of my Saudi colleagues are saying I should support them. I do support them.

My position is that we should take what we have and build on it.

When Mr. Macron stood next to Prince Mohammed, he made this point and he was correct to do so. We need to support the crown prince in his effort to reform Saudi Arabia because if we let him down, he will come under pressure from radical elements who are not willing to reform.

These limited reforms and the general political condition of the Arab world today are adding strength to the argument of the anti-democracy forces. This unfortunate reality puts more responsibility on our shoulders to resume our work and to redouble our efforts to push for democracy in the Arab world as a realistic choice for people and a solution to the failure of many Arab states.

Jamal Khashoggi was a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist.

Saudi Arabia: Killing Jamal Khashoggi Was A Saudi Warning Shot

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Killing Jamal Khashoggi Was A Saudi Warning Shot

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Long before Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, Saudi Arabia had a history of cracking down on dissidents. Little tolerance exists inside the kingdom for activism and dissent. Even abroad, critics have not been safe: Saudi princes critical of the regime have gone missing while living in Europe.

But Khashoggi was not an ordinary dissident. He had started an advocacy group called Democracy for the Arab World Now, which aimed to bring together reformer intellectuals and political Islamist in pursuit of building democracy in the Arab world. Khashoggi also had links to Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist movement that has had tremendous influence in the region but one that Saudi Arabia regards as a regional threat and terrorist organization.

His political engagement had become especially alarming for Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, given Khashoggi’s once very close relations to the royal family and his in-depth knowledge of issues and networks within the kingdom. Khashoggi had become a “dissident” only recently, but he did so with a level of ambition that triggered Mohammed bin Salman insecurity. The crown prince, known as MBS, tried and failed to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. Khashoggi expressed his distrust of the Saudi authorities, and continued his activism.

Khashoggi had become a ‘dissident’ only recently, but he did so with a level of ambition that triggered Mohammed bin Salman’s insecurity.

So the crown prince, it seems, had him tortured and killed. The message was clear: Anyone who challenges the Saudi regime and tries to create alternatives to the current Saudi rule will be punished in the harshest way possible. It is a stark warning to dissident members of the Saudi diaspora and their supporters.

The Khashoggi incident is not only a matter of human rights or suppressing dissidents. It’s a sign how personally MBS took Khashoggi’s political conversion. That the incident happened at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shows that MBS was not afraid of any major repercussions when delivering his message. The Saudi ruling elite surely has the means to have a dissident killed in an “accident” that would be difficult to officially trace. The crown prince chose a different, more frightening route.

The brazen nature of the kidnapping and murder seems to have surprised many in U.S. and international policy circles. But Saudi authorities had good reason to believe that they could get away with kidnapping and killing one of their own citizens.

Russia’s 2016 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London, as well as its attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal, showed how a country can deal with its “traitors” abroad. The exiled brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was killed in Malaysia with VX nerve agent, which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction. Despite the clear Pyongyang link to this murder, President Donald Trump was shaking hands with Kim within a matter of months.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been widely criticized for his friendly demeanor in public as he met with Saudi Crown

LEAH MILLIS VIA GETTY IMAGES
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been widely criticized for his friendly demeanor in public as he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this week to gather information about the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Despite all the attention and the possibility of rising tensions in the next couple of months, the Khashoggi incident is not likely to change any major power dynamics or relation between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in long-term. When the details of the incident first emerged, the Saudi disregard for international civility and norms did not seem to bother Trump, who stated that Saudis are “spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs for this country” ― referring to a proposed arms deal that has yet to take full effect.

He also seemed to shrug off whatever happened in the Saudi consulate by saying “This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge Khashoggi is not a United States citizen.”

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There is no doubt that MBS counted on Trump’s emphasis on deals and money, as well as the president’s disdain for the press and his closer relations with autocratic countries like Russia and North Korea when compared to the policies of the former administrations.

MBS also has close ties to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Kushner facilitated the $110 billion Saudi-U.S. military deal and foresees a key role for Saudi Arabia in the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan he envisions. The crown prince also knows that Saudi oil exports are critical to the global economy and Saudi cooperation is still a key milestone in the U.S. administration’s Middle East policy. All this makes him feel he can act with impunity.

The U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia is not based on values, but on interests. After the outrage from U.S. business and political circles over Khashoggi’s apparent murder, especially from some within his own party, Trump transitioned from his “this is not our business” response to “not good if they really did it.”

Trump spoke to the Saudi King, and upon the King’s denial of any Saudi involvement in the Khashoggi incident, Trump said it was possible “rogue killers” might have murdered Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also sent to meet with the Saudi King and MBS. According to the State Department website, the discussions covered bilateral and regional issues, and Pompeo “thanked the King for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.”

In short, the president and the secretary of state sound ready to accept the narrative Saudi officials will provide them.

There is no doubt that MBS counted on Trump’s emphasis on deals and money, as well as the president’s disdain for the press.

True, the Saudi ruling elite underestimated the extent of Turkish surveillance of the consulate in Istanbul, and it didn’t seem to have predicted the immediate negative reaction to the Khashoggi incident in U.S. business and policy circles. But Saudi authorities likely will continue to focus on doing just enough to appease the U.S. administration in answering questions about what happened to the journalist. The Saudis can be expected to claim that MBS had no knowledge of the apparent murder, and down the road they may even pretend to punish those they say were involved.

With the Khashoggi incident, MBS was just testing the boundaries of diplomatic impunity in a world where the standards for diplomatic civility are on a fast decline. It is no secret that he wants to control and subdue the Saudi diaspora, and any political movement that can challenge his legitimacy.

Given the backlash from the business world ― which probably will intensify as gruesome details of the violence inflicted on Khashoggi trickle to the press ― MBS will likely be more cautious, at least in short-term.

In long-term, though, businesses and policymakers will need to signal consistently ― in public and in private ― that, despite the potential damage that sanctions on Saudi Arabia might do to the global economy, there are values that the international community is not ready to sacrifice. The challenge for the international community is to decide what those values are.

Nukhet A. Sandal is the director of global studies at the Center for International Studies and associate professor of political science at Ohio University. She is the author of Religious Leaders and Conflict Transformation.

Saudi Arabia transfers $100 million to US amid crisis over Khashoggi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Saudi Arabia ‘Coincidentally’ Wires $100 Million To U.S. Amid Khashoggi Controversy

The payment, which the Saudis had committed to in August, reportedly arrived on the same day that Pompeo landed in Riyadh.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to discuss the disappearance and presumed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That same day, the U.S. government received a $100 million payment from the oil-rich kingdom, The New York Times and Washington Post reported — an amount that had earlier been promised to the Trump administration to support its stabilization efforts in Syria.

Trump officials have insisted the timing of the hefty transfer was pure coincidence. But some Middle Eastern experts say they aren’t so sure.

“In all probability, the Saudis want Trump to know that his cooperation in covering for the Khashoggi affair is important to the Saudi monarch,” Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center of Middle East Studies, told the Post. “Much of its financial promises to the U.S. will be contingent on this cooperation.”

One U.S. official involved in Syria policy was blunter. “The timing of this is no coincidence,” the official told the Times.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, has maintained, however, that the Saudi payment had no connection whatsoever to Pompeo’s meeting with the Crown Prince or Khashoggi’s alleged murder.

Saudi Arabia had publicly committed the money in August, he said, adding that “the specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit.”

Saudi Arabia transfers $100 million to US amid crisis over Khashoggi

Reports have connected the alleged murder and dismemberment of the journalist with people from the Crown Prince’s inner circle. Yet both the president and Pompeo said this week that the Saudis should be given more time to investigate the situation and should be assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Trump and Pompeo also stressed America’s close ties to the Saudis ― and the massive amounts of money that the U.S. receives from the kingdom.

Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that “we need to make sure we are mindful” of the important business and government ties with Saudi Arabia as the U.S. considers next steps regarding the Khashoggi case.

“I do think it’s important that everyone keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships ― financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationships, things we work on together all across the world, the efforts to [counter Iran],” Pompeo said, according to CNN.

When asked about Khashoggi’s disappearance last Thursday, Trump said that while “we don’t like it even a little bit,” it wouldn’t be “acceptable” to him to stop selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to Riyadh.

“We don’t like it even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me,” the president said, referring to an arms deal that experts have called hugely exaggerated.

A Young Prince is Re-imagining Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

A Young Prince is Reimagining Saudi Arabia

Two years into his campaign as change agent in this conservative oil kingdom, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be gaining the confidence and political clout to push his agenda of economic and social reform.

The young prince outlined his plans in a nearly 90-minute conversation Tuesday night at his office here. Aides said it was his first lengthy on-the-record interview in months. He offered detailed explanations about foreign policy, plans to privatize oil giant Saudi Aramco, strategy for investment in domestic industry, and liberalization of the entertainment sector, despite opposition from some people.

Mohammed bin Salman said that the crucial requirement for reform is public willingness to change. “The most concerning thing is if the Saudi people are not convinced. If the Saudi people are convinced, the sky is the limit.” he said.

Change seems increasingly desired in this young, restless country.

A recent Saudi poll found that 85 percent of the public, if forced to choose, would support the government rather than other authorities, said Abdullah al-Hokail, the head of the government’s public opinion center.

He added that 77 percent of those surveyed supported the government’s “Vision 2030” reform plan, and that 82 percent favored entertainment performances at public gatherings. Though these aren’t independently verified numbers, they do indicate the direction of popular feeling, which Saudis say is matched by anecdotal evidence.

“MBS,” as the deputy crown prince is known, said that he was “very optimistic” about President Trump. He described Trump as “a president who will bring America back to the right track” after Barack Obama, whom Saudi officials mistrusted. “Trump has not yet completed 100 days, and he has restored all the alliances of the US with its conventional allies.”

A sign of the kingdom’s embrace of the Trump administration was the visit here this week by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. While the Obama administration had criticized the Saudi war in Yemen, Mattis discussed the possibility of additional US support if the Houthis there don’t agree to a UN-brokered settlement.

(Writer’s note: I traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of the press corps accompanying Mattis.)

Mohammed bin Salman has been courting Russia, as well as the United States, and he offered an intriguing explanation of Saudi Arabia’s goal in this diplomacy.

“The main objective is not to have Russia place all its cards in the region behind Iran,” he said. To convince Russia that Riyadh is a better bet than Tehran, the Saudis have been “coordinating our oil policies recently” with Moscow, he said, which “could be the most important economic deal for Russia in modern times.”

There’s less apparent political tension than a year ago, when many analysts saw a rivalry between Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is officially next in line for the throne.

The deputy crown prince appears to be firmly in control of Saudi military strategy, foreign policy and economic planning. He has gathered a team of technocrats who are much younger and more activist than the kingdom’s past leadership.

Reform plans appear to be moving ahead slowly but steadily. Mohammed bin Salman said that the budget deficit had been cut; non-oil revenue increased 46 percent from 2014 to 2016 and is forecast to grow another 12 percent this year. Unemployment and housing remain problems, he said, and improvement in those areas isn’t likely until between 2019 and 2021.

The biggest economic change is the plan to privatize about 5 percent of Saudi Aramco, which Mohammed bin Salman said will take place next year. This public offering would probably raise hundreds of billions of dollars and be the largest such sale in financial history. The exact size of the offering will depend on financial-market demand and the availability of good options for investing the proceeds, the prince told me.

The rationale for selling a share of the kingdom’s oil treasure is to raise money to diversify the economy away from reliance on energy. One priority is mining, which would tap an estimated $1.3 trillion in potential mineral wealth.

The Saudi official listed other investment targets: creating a domestic arms industry, reducing the $60 billion to $80 billion the kingdom spends annually to buy weapons abroad; producing automobiles in Saudi Arabia to replace the roughly $14 billion the government spends annually for imported vehicles; and creating domestic entertainment and tourism industries to capture some of the $22 billion that Saudis spend traveling overseas each year.

The entertainment industry is a proxy for the larger puzzle of how to unlock the Saudi economy. Changes have begun.

A Japanese orchestra performed here this month, before a mixed audience of families. A Comic Con took place in Jeddah recently, with audience dressing up as characters from the TV show “Supernatural” and other favorites. Comedy clubs feature sketch comedians (but no female stand-up comics, yet).

These options are a modest revolution for a Saudi Arabia where the main entertainment venues, until recently, were restaurants and shopping malls. The modern world, in all its raucousness, is coming, for better or worse.

King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh hosted a Monster Jam last month with souped-up trucks. There are plans for a Six Flags theme park south of Riyadh.

Maya al-Athel, one of the dozens of young people hatching plans at the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, said in an interview that she’d like to bring a Museum of Ice Cream, like one she found in New York, to the kingdom.

“We want to boost the culture of entertainment,” said Ahmed al-Khatib, a former investment banker who’s chairman of the entertainment authority. His target is to create six public entertainment options every weekend for Saudis. But the larger goal, he said, is “spreading happiness.”

The instigator of this attempt to reimagine the kingdom is the 31-year-old deputy crown prince. With his brash demeanor, he’s the opposite of the traditional Bedouin reserve of past Saudi leaders. Unlike so many Saudi princes, he wasn’t educated in the West, which may have preserved the raw combative energy that is part of his appeal for young Saudis.

The trick for Mohammed bin Salman is to maintain the alliance with the United States, without seeming to be America’s puppet. “We have been influenced by US a lot,” he said. “Not because anybody exerted pressure on us — if anyone puts pressure on us, we go the other way. But if you put a movie in the cinema and I watch it, I will be influenced.” Without this cultural nudge, he said, “we would have ended up like North Korea.” With the United States as a continuing ally, “undoubtedly, we’re going to merge more with the changes in the world.”

Mohammed bin Salman is careful when he talks about religious issues. So far, he has treated the religious authorities as allies against radicalism rather than cultural adversaries. He argues that extreme religious conservatism in Saudi Arabia is a relatively recent phenomenon, born in reaction to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Sunni radicals later that year as a reaction to the Shi’ite radicalism.

“I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young,” the prince said. “We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era,” he concluded. “That age is over.”

The Washington Post