Authoritarian-Loving Statists for Reform

Thomas Friedman is right that we should all be rooting for the success of the Saudi Arabian reform movement. He's wrong about why it might work.
Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.
The analysis of why the 'Arab Spring' movements failed is simplistic, as is his faith that a 'top-down' movement will work better. MBS is smart enough to have sold it to him that way, doubtless knowing Friedman's preferences.

If the Saudi reform works, it won't be because of an authoritarian character. It will be because it is able to appeal to the Saudi people to reject tribal and family loyalty in favor of direct loyalty to the king. Edward I tried something similar in England, with some success -- reforms like the introduction of fee simple feudalism stripped away nests of existing loyalty relationships, streamlining the connection between 'loyalty to the king' and whatever position you occupied. This new approach will be to the disadvantage of a few, all of them rich and powerful rivals of MBS. It will offer advantage of a great many, whose position could be improved by a direct relationship that cuts out the middlemen between themselves and the king.

As a consequence, it has a chance of working. It worked for Edward Longshanks, at least in his own lifetime.

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