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MBS: despota nel deserto [EN]

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L’Economist ha pubblicato un lunghissimo articolo, a firma di Nicolas Pelham, che delinea l’ascesa e il profilo di Mohammed bin Salman, l’ambizioso principe ereditario saudita.

Ne emerge una figura ambiziosa e spietata: nato in un ramo secondario e oscuro della famiglia reale, che conta oltre 15.000 membri, ha battuto la concorrenza dei numerosi fratelli guadagnandosi il controllo de facto di una monarchia assoluta di grande influenza economica e culturale.

Home life was tricky for bin Salman, too (he is now more commonly known by his initials, mbs). His father, Salman, already had five sons with his first wife, an educated woman from an elite urban family. mbs’s mother, Salman’s third wife, was a tribeswoman. When mbs visited the palace where his father lived with his first wife, his older half-brothers mocked him as the “son of a Bedouin”. Later, his elder brothers and cousins were sent to universities in America and Britain. The Bedouin offspring of Prince Salman stayed in Riyadh to attend King Saud University.

As young adults, the royals sometimes cruised on superyachts together; mbs was reportedly treated like an errand boy, sent onshore to buy cigarettes. A photo from one of these holidays shows a group of 16 royals posing on a yacht-deck in shorts and sunglasses, the hills of the French Riviera behind them. In the middle is mbs’s cousin, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor dubbed “the Arabian Warren Buffett”. mbs, tall and broad-shouldered in a white t-shirt, is pushed to the farthest edge.


L’articolo (che può essere ascoltato anche sotto forma di podcast di 47 minuti) è uno spaccato della società e della cultura saudita: una monarchia assoluta tutto sommato giovane (nata nel 1932) che con l’avvento di MBS sta intraprendendo un percorso di riforma e occidentalizzazione. Tuttavia, ci sono grossi dubbi sui metodi del principe ereditario, sulle reali intenzioni dietro al cambiamento, e anche sul suo carattere:

As crown prince, mbs has introduced a code of law so that judicial sentencing accords with state guidelines, not a judge’s own interpretation of the Koran. He criminalised stoning to death and forced marriage. The most overt change involved the role of women. mbs attacked guardianship laws that prevented women from working, travelling, owning a passport, opening a business, having hospital treatment or divorcing without approval from a male relative. In practice, many Saudi women have found these new rights hard to claim in a patriarchal society, and men can still file claims of disobedience against female relatives. But mbs’s reforms were more than cosmetic. Some clerics were jailed; the rest soon fell into line.


mbs put few limits on what he was prepared to do to achieve control. He earned the nickname Abu Rasasa – father of the bullet – after widespread rumours that he sent a bullet in the post to an official who ruled against him in a land dispute (Saudi officials have previously denied this rumour). He was fearsome in private, too. “There are these terrible tempers, smashing up offices, trashing the palace,” says a source with palace connections. “He’s extremely violent.” Several associates describe him as having wild mood swings. Two former palace insiders say that, during an argument with his mother, he once sprayed her ceiling with bullets. According to multiple sources and news reports, he has locked his mother away.

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