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CNN Special Reports

Saudi Arabia: Kingdom Of Secrets. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired July 15, 2022 - 23:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: President after president, our partnership is important to both our nations. Decade after decade --

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Extraordinary friendship and relationship --


ZAKARIA: America as always returned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: US presidents have to varying degrees been willing to pander to Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: To the arms of an old friend, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The pariah that they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A president who vowed to be different. President Biden is about to kiss the ring of NBS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The remarkable reversal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be awkward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's now just another patron of a prince, paying a visit to a country he wants called a pariah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Crown Prince is a wrecking ball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A dictator renowned for a very brutal act.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Khashoggi's body was dismembered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brought a bone saw into the consulate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chopped up into small pieces.

ZAKARIA: Why would you bring a bone saw to an interrogation?

Who is at the same time a reformer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man is extremely popular. ZAKARIA: Revolutionizing his nation. The kingdom's power lies under the desert sands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just keep your pumps open, your prices low, and you can do whatever you want out back.

ZAKARIA: Liquid Gold, oil. Is America betraying its values or shrewdly coming to terms with reality?

To understand this unusual relationship, you need to understand the very unusual country that is Saudi Arabia.

Good evening, I'm Fareed Zakaria. Saudi Arabia is a fascinating study in contrasts. This dark kingdom that spawned Osama bin Laden that four years from entered the most extreme form of Islam, is right now in the midst of a striking transformation. Lively cafes dot the street corners of glittering cities. American pop stars performed a sold out crowds. Some of the world's best golfers are leaving the PGA to join the Saudi tool.

All of this, even as the world cannot forget the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA says the killing was ordered by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia himself, Mohammed bin Salman. Yet at this moment, that Prince, MBS, is playing the gracious host to the President of the United States. Joe Biden once called Saudi Arabia a pariah. Now he's trying to patch up a fractured friendship with an old ally, one whose story is taking a dramatic turn.

In Saudi Arabia, almost nothing is what it seems. To find the real story here, you have to go beneath the surface. About one mile beneath to be precise, there is more oil in Saudi Arabia than almost anywhere else on Earth. When oil was first discovered, legend has it, the king said cap the well. Too much money brings trouble. Then he got over it, oil brought with it fantastic wealth.

TRUMP: They make a billion dollars a day.

ZAKARIA: This is the Prince's palace, 317 rooms. There are thousands of Saudi princes. They blow gigantic sums all over the world

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the harbor in Khan, we counted at least seven huge Saudi yachts.


ZAKARIA: Oil money buys million dollar prizes for camel races, and expensive cars you can crash for fun. But most importantly, oil carved a country out of the desert. Modern cities sprang out of the sand in just decades.

There's only one other force as powerful as oil in Saudi Arabia, religion. Saudis practice the most extreme form of Islam in the world.

TAREK MASOUD, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Article 1 of the basic law of Saudi Arabia says that the Quran and the sings of the prophet are the constitution of this country.

ZAKARIA: Sharia is the only law. Women often rendered virtually invisible, black ghosts.

MASOUD: Domination, men have dominated women. There's this sense that any mixing between men and women is fraught with the potential for evil to happen.

ZAKARIA: Historically, women had the status of children. By law, their husbands or fathers were their guardians. Some clerics gave men a free hand to beat women.

Mohamad al-Arefe counseled young men on the right way to hit their wives, lightly with the hand, he says, and not in the face. If the beating did not keep a wife in line, men could download a government app that was used for wife tracking. Among other functions, it could send out a text alert if a wife headed for the airport or the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Testosterone is a dangerous drug. It's this view of women as both children and as chaotic sexual beings.

ZAKARIA: The app is called Absher, Arabic for your wish is my command. Some men might have needed more than one app because they had more than one wife. There are reportedly more than a million Saudis in polygamous marriages.

There are no churches in Saudi Arabia. Christians pray in secret.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have secret churches there, a house churches.

ZAKARIA: Practicing Christianity is against Saudi Arabia's version of Islamic law, so as every other religion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a tough place to be a Christian.

ZAKARIA: Even tougher to be Jewish. We must kill all the Jews, said the so-called religious scholar. Textbooks published in 2018 taught that the Jews are cowardly, devious.

Another evil in Saudi Arabia was music. Movies were considered heresy too. And if you complain publicly about any of it, any government structure, you could be arrested. Foes of the government have been tortured, even beheaded.

For decades, Saudi Arabia has lived a bizarre double life. Fabulously rich, drenched in oil, it was at the same time handcuffed for years by extremist Islam. The Saudis have been deeply conflicted but then so are we, because their story is intertwined with ours. The closest ally of the strange desert kingdom has been America, one of the world's most open democracies where freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution. Why?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it succinctly.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Guys, here's the deal. Just keep your pumps open, your price is low, and don't bother the Houthis too much. And you can do whatever you want out back.

ZAKARIA: Out back, that's where you'd find the medievalism, the extremist rhetoric, the crazy clerics, the hatred of other religions.

FRIEDMAN: It is my view, Fareed, that on 911, we got hit with the distilled essence of everything that was going on out back.


ZAKARIA: Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 911 hijackers were all Saudis. More ISIS soldiers came from Saudi than anywhere else in the Middle East. For four years, America has been desperate for a new day in Saudi Arabia.

Enter the 36-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is unlike any Saudi ruler the world has seen before. MBS as he's called, effectively took over from his father, King Salman, five years ago. Almost immediately, everything in Saudi Arabia seem to change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right away, he looks like a breath of fresh air. And he's forceful.

ZAKARIA: Remember, music was evil and forbidden. Then, Mariah Carey performed. After her came a parade of stars, among them Justin Bieber and the Black Eyed Peas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was beginning to do something. I hadn't seen from any Saudi leader ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His reforms inside Saudi Arabia had been revolutionary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says, I am not going to leave this life until I see the entire Middle East in the first rank of nations.

ZAKARIA: Movies were forebode, but then the Crown Prince himself opened a movie theater. Watching "Black Panther" where men and women sitting together, that is a dramatic change for this country.

MASOUD: This man is extremely popular.

FRIEDMAN: He just begun to actually fight the war of ideas.

ZAKARIA: Women were finally allowed to drive, and some of the guardian laws that treated them like children were repealed. MBS stripped the dreaded religious police of much of their power. He arrested some of the crazy clerics, including the brief detention of Mohamad al-Arefe, the wife beating advice giver.

And remember the cleric who talked about killing the Jews? The Crown Prince is now talking about recognizing the State of Israel. Saudi Arabia is changing but even as it does, there is something else going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Massive purge of princes all arrested by a man who would be king. ZAKARIA: Early in his reign, MBS imprisoned hundreds of princes and wealthy businessmen at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton of all places.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We drive in under police escort.

ZAKARIA: It was called a crackdown on corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one enters here now without official permission.

ZAKARIA: What appeared to be cell phone video emerged, showing a chaotic scene in one of the world's fanciest hotels.

FRIEDMAN: And it was a shakedown power play of all his potential rivals.


ZAKARIA: There were reports of torture and one death which the government denied. Meanwhile, even as MBS finally gave women the right to drive, Saudi police arrested the leaders have the Right to Drive Movement. And again, there are credible reports that some of the women were tortured.

FRIEDMAN: This is an authoritarian, absolute monarchy.

ZAKARIA: The truth about MBS was beginning to emerge, and it was a complicated picture.

FRIEDMAN: You had a young 29 years old when became Deputy Crown Prince, very impulsive, not very experienced, young man who had some very dangerous dark impulses. Saddam like impulses, but we now understand.

ZAKARIA: US officials usually weigh in when allies like Saudi Arabia go off course.

FRIEDMAN: They need us to draw red lines.

ZAKARIA: Donald Trump drew no lines. Like other presidents before him, he found the friendship because of oil.

TRUMP: If you want to see oil prices go to $150 a barrel, all you have to do is break up our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: But unlike previous presidents, Trump never question any Saudi action.


FRIEDMAN: And what they've all needed always over the years was to be able to say to their cabinet or their advisors, I'd love to do that crazy thing you want me to do. I'd love to do that, my heart is with you. But the American Secretary of State broke my arm. If we don't play that role, these guys will drive right over the cliff. And that's exactly what happened to Arefe.

ZAKARIA: That cliff was, of course, the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: On international murder mystery pitting the US against its key ally Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: It began in the dead of night, a private Saudi plane landed in Istanbul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Turks say assassins waiting for him inside the consulate.

ZAKARIA: Jamal Khashoggi had an appointment that day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saudi journalist and a writer for the Washington Post who is a vocal opponent of his own government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is creating an environment of intimidation and fear.

ZAKARIA: Khashoggi was well-connected with ties to some senior royals. He had been treated well at the consulate before. So at the appointed time, he went inside. What follows is from an audio tape described to CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within moments of his fateful steps into the consulate, Khashoggi recognizes someone.

ZAKARIA: Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a former intelligence official close to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Mutreb tells him, you are coming back. Khashoggi says, you can't do that. And then, he's attacked.

There are screams. His last words, I can't breathe. Then, the sound of a soft --

DON LEMON, NCC ANCHOR: Turkish officials say Khashoggi's body was cut up with a bone saw.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jamal Khashoggi's body was dismembered chopped up into small pieces.

ZAKARIA: A Saudi autopsy expert tells the men put on headphones and listen to music, presumably to drown out the sound of the soul. A Khashoggi look alike can be seen leaving the consulate, same clothes, same glasses and beard, everything except the shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saudi Arabia vehemently denies knowing anything about Khashoggi's disappearance.

ZAKARIA: As details began to emerge, the Saudis said a fight had broken out.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The official Saudi explanation that could show his death was the result of a fistfight gone bad has been deemed laughable.

ZAKARIA: Finally, the Saudi government settled on one word, rogue, it was a rogue operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Saudi Foreign Minister told Fox News that this was a rogue operation.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Rogue elements may have been involved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going to say he was killed by rogue operatives.

EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: With rogue killers explanation, this is absurd.

TRUMP: Sounded to me, like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows?

ZAKARIA: The CIA said it believed MBS was involved with the murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MBS, the Crown Prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he's complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible. That I think he's crazy. I think he is dangerous.

ZAKARIA: Trump appeared unconvinced.

TRUMP: Whether he did or whether he didn't, he denies it vehemently.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would really question somebody's judgment if they could figure this out.

ALI SHIHABI, SAUDI POLITICAL ANALYST: It was an example of sometimes elements of the bureaucracy going rogue.

ZAKARIA: Ali Shihabi used to act as a Saudi spokesman in the US.

US intelligence believes that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered on the instructions of the Crown Prince, that an elite team of people very close to the Crown Prince went to Istanbul with the purpose of doing him harm. What do you say to that?

SHIHABI: Look, have you wanted to kill Jamal there were so many cheaper and easier ways to do it.

ZAKARIA: He was very much a friend of the royal family. He was an insider.

SHIHABI: He was a prominent person, he was a prominent player. Everybody has their friends and enemies. The Crown Prince has denied it and everybody in Riyadh has denied it, and there simply isn't a piece of evidence.

ZAKARIA: Senator Lindsey Graham says there is a smoking gun. It's just a smoking bone saw, not a gun. The Washington Post Editorial Page puts it very simply. If this was meant to be an interrogation that went rogue, why would you bring a bone saw to an interrogation? SHIHABI: Well, first of all, nobody has shown us that bone saw

ZAKARIA: Well, how was he dismembered?

SHIHABI: I think, I mean, again, not to get gruesome but I saw an interview on television with a doctor who said that any saw could dismember a human being.

ZAKARIA: Why did they bring any saw?

SHIHABI: Look, he was killed and it seems like he was dismembered and the body was disposed off. So, I mean, it's a tragic, horrible event. But you cannot put the stability of a country or the strategic relationship between the United States of American Saudi Arabia hostage to the unfortunate death of one individual.


ZAKARIA: It's a question that has haunted the United States for years, does align with Saudi Arabia commit to higher price.

Still ahead, the biggest US Saudi crisis 911, why did Bin Laden hate America so much? The little known story when we come back


ZAKARIA: In 1996, in a dramatic fatwa to the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. These youths love death as you love life, he warned. These youths are steadfast at war. They will sing out that there is only killing.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 911 were from one country, Saudi Arabia. The man who led them, Osama bin Laden, was from Saudi Arabia. ISIS and other terrorist groups killing Americans have been filled with recruits from Saudi Arabia. How did one of America's closest to sterilize become the home of its most bitter enemies?


To understand we have to go back 300 years to the 1700s. Two men formed an alliance in the Arabian desert, a cleric known as Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and a warrior named Muhammad bin Saud, the patriarch of the Saudi royal family. Al-Wahhab and his followers were the ISIS of their time, preaching strict adherence to the Quran on pain of death. Their puritanical faith became known as Wahhabism. And it was that creed which dominated Saudi Arabia for years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Authorities in Saudi Arabia have executed five --

RASHID KHALIDI, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Wahhabism starts from a principle that I as a Muslim can determine if another Muslim is a good Muslim. And if he or she is not, then I can proclaim him or her a heretic. And that person is subject to the most drastic penalties, including death.

ZAKARIA: Wahhabism was only a minor sect of Islam for much of its history. The Muslim world was shaped far more by large diverse societies like Egypt. Then Saudi Arabia struck oil with mountains of cash, the Kingdom eclipsed other Muslim nations and spread its version of the faith everywhere.

KHALIDI: What oil money did was finance the building of Islamic centers, mosques, putting conditions that ensured that their exclusivist ideas alone would be taught in those Islamic centers and those mosques.

ZAKARIA: But in 1979, Wahhabism turned on the kingdom itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Armed religious fanatics today seize the Great Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia and took hostages.

ZAKARIA: The attackers were extreme religious conservatives. They were appalled by the unholy westernization that the riches of oil had wrought.

FRIEDMAN: They broadcast their message that the Saudi royal family are drunkards, gamblers, people who have taken Saudi Arabia away from the true Islamic faith.

ZAKARIA: After two weeks, the rebels were finally captured and beheaded. That same year, an Islamic revolution swept through Iran, ousting a monarchy. Launching the rise of Iran's Shiite version of puritanical Islam, the rival faith of the Saudis. The Saudi royal family panic, and gave more power to the Wahhabism --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the age of 12, she was dressed in black.

ZAKARIA: -- to run the kingdom their way.

FRIEDMAN: No more cinema. Women could not appear on TV uncovered. Nor music in schools, they basically banned fun.

ZAKARIA: At the end of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. A godless superpower had taken over a Muslim nation. This gave the Saudis a golden opportunity.

ALI SOUFAN, FORMER FBI AGENT: It was a gift from heaven to people in Saudi Arabia. They looked into these Islamist's eyes and they said, why don't you go find the infidels who just invaded Afghanistan?

ZAKARIA: One of the men who answered the call was Osama bin Laden.

SOUFAN: Bin Laden was always a true believer. He really believed in all these ideals taught to him by Wahhabi schools early on in his childhood in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden's father had been a construction magnate with close ties to the king. But Osama bin Laden gave up his life of comfort and move to Afghanistan, forming a ragtag army of foreign mercenaries from across the Arab and Islamic world. In the late '80s, the organization was given a name al-Qaeda. In 1990, a new enemy caught Bin Laden's eye.

[23:30:00] ZAKARIA: More than 400,000 US troops in Operation Desert Shield. Half a million American troops came to Saudi Arabia to defend against Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reports tell of Iraqi forces over running the capital of Kuwait. Saddam had taken over in neighboring Kuwait and was poised to strike the kingdom. The presence of US soldiers saved Saudi Arabia, but it infuriated the Wahhabis. Bin Laden urged the Saudi royal family to let him fight Saddam himself with his own army of mujahideen. They brushed him off.

SOUFAN: Osama bin Laden was furious. He thought that this is the unholy highest thing anybody can do, bringing the infidels to the Arabian Peninsula.

ZAKARIA: In 1996, with American troops still in the kingdom, Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa, terrorizing you while you are carrying arms in our land is a moral obligation he declared to the American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Outrage, shock and heavy loss of life.

ZAKARIA: Thus began the road to 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Terrorist bombs explode minutes apart outside --

ZAKARIA: Bombings at US embassies in East Africa --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who did it and why?

ZAKARIA: -- killed hundreds and wounded over 5,000. The USS Cole attack in Yemen.

Bill Clinton, Former President Of United States: It was a despicable and cowardly act.

ZAKARIA: Nearly sunk a destroyer killing 17. And in 2001 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Appear to have collapsed.

ZAKARIA: Bin Laden's greatest triumph, nearly 3,000 Americans obliterated. Saudi Arabia had created a monster.


ZAKARIA: After 911, the monster turned against its homeland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The focus once again is squarely on al-Qaeda.

ZAKARIA: Mounting a deadly offensive inside the kingdom. The House of Saud mounted a vicious counter attack.

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNTER-TERRORISM CZAR: They began systematically to find and go after al-Qaeda cells in the kingdom.

ZAKARIA: Mohammed bin Salman took dramatic measures to curb the Wahhabis influence in Saudi society. But the ideology of Wahhabism is still alive across the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The narrative that you have to behead and kill anyone who doesn't believe in what you believe, the narrative you have to blow up mosques and tombs, the narrative that anyone who's not a Muslim of does not have any rights, not even the right to live. This is taken from textbooks in Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: Up next, why --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: US presidents have two varying degrees, been willing to pander to Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: Why does this troubled relationship endure? The liquid gold that is the bond between America and Saudi Arabia, oil.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: If you want to see oil prices go to $150 a barrel. Like by the way, Russia would love to see that, all you have to do is break up our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: The truth is, Donald Trump is mostly right. Saudi Arabia, more than any single country, controls the price of oil. They have lots of it and it's cheap for them to turn the taps on and off.

CLARKE: That fear that Saudi Arabia, the leader of the OPEC alliance of oil producing states could at any time turn off the oil. That's fear always hung like a sword of Damocles.

ZAKARIA: And that fear endures even as America approaches oil independence because Riyadh still sets the global price. In fact, the Saudis have usually behaved responsibly and their role as the central bankers of oil.

CLARKE: Oil and Saudi Arabia were synonymous in the 1950s and '60s, and '70s and '80s.

ZAKARIA: To understand how and why the US Saudi bond has endured for almost a century, we need to go back to how it began.

In 1938, American oil men offered Saudi King Ibn Saud $170,000 in gold to let them drill for oil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Arabs were suspicious of these strange newcomers.

ZAKARIA: The king was reluctant, but the desperately poor desert country needed the money. So the search for liquid gold began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The geological crews combed the blistering desert month after month, searching for places most likely to yield petroleum.

ZAKARIA: Finally, they found it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oil in commercial quantities and been brought in after three long discouraging years.

ZAKARIA: By the early 1940s, it was clear Saudi Arabia was an oil bonanza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 1,000 Americans and 5,000 Saudi Arabs were employed.

ZAKARIA: The US and the Saudis formed a company to share the profits, the Arab American Oil Company, Aramco. At the same time, America was having big oil problems at home. World War II had severely depleted domestic supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A fresh warning that our known oil reserves won't be exhausted in 10 years,

ZAKARIA: So it was probably no accident that in 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt invited King Ibn Saud to a meeting in the middle of the Suez Canal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An American destroyer bring Ibn Saud, King of the 5 million people of Saudi Arabia to a conference with President Roosevelt.

ZAKARIA: The two leaders hit it off. It was that friendship that cemented the Saudi American oil venture. And as it grew, American oil executives built an efficient well run Little America inside Saudi Arabia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slowly, painfully, they reared a modern community on the desert besides the Persian Gulf, complete with air conditioned houses, two hospitals and an outdoor movie theater.

ZAKARIA: All of it, though, was behind walls, because it represented a culture completely alien to the strictest Islamic practices of the Saudis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Always popular with the employees is the freshwater swimming pool, where they can cool off after a round of golf or a set of tennis.

ZAKARIA: The Saudi American alliance grew stronger through the years. But there was always one sticking point, America support for Israel. That difference turned into a crisis in the 1970s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning, Syrian artillery has been bombarding the (inaudible).

ZAKARIA: During the Yom Kippur War, the Saudis protested American aid to Israel, and then led an oil embargo against American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will reduce oil production by 5% a month until the Israelis withdraw from occupied territories.

ZAKARIA: It plunged the United States into a recession. People had to wait for hours to fill their tanks and pay sky high prices for gas. It was the first major crisis between the two countries. Today that crisis has been resolved. Saudi Arabia and Israel are beginning to look like pals., joined together by a common enemy, Iran.

The new geopolitics of the Middle East has brought the monarchies of the Gulf together with Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, my friends.

ZAKARIA: Many have even recognized Israel. Saudi Arabia might actually follow suit, which would be a seismic event. The land of the Two Holy Mosques, finally accepting the reality of the Jewish state in its neighborhood.



ZAKARIA: The King of Saudi Arabia is 86 years old. It might sometimes seem that the Saudi King is always quite old.

TAREK MASOUD, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Everybody who governed that country was aged and uncharismatic.

ZAKARIA: You see, succession in the kingdom has followed a venerable pattern. By some estimates, the modern founder of the kingdom had 45 sons. When one dot, the next oldest brother took his place. But five years ago, King Salman shook up this established ritual. After an interim choice, he installed as Crown Prince, his then 31-year-old son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saudi Arabia has a new heir to the throne.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A royal shakeup in the house of Saud.

ZAKARIA: Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, was an obscure young royal known to almost no one outside Saudi Arabia. Now, he is poised to succeed his ailing father and rule the kingdom for half a century if his help and the monarchy hold up.

MASOUD: This is somebody with a great deal of ambition and who has the complete support and faith of his father.

ZAKARIA: When MBS rocketed to power, he began to shake things up almost right away. The old Saudi system seemed ancient with senior royals running ministries like earls and dukes. MBS put an end to that, replacing princes with people loyal to him, and amassing power personally.

We've talked about his dramatic social reforms.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO UN: A royal decree has been issued giving women the right to drive. ZAKARIA: And we've talked about his harsh treatment of some of those who advocated for those reforms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rights groups say women activists have been subjected to torture and assault in Saudi jails.

ZAKARIA: But even as Saudi human rights abuses continue, MBS is making vital changes to a once backward kingdom.

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: If Mohammed bin Salman, the reformer, didn't exist, the Saudi system would have had to invent him. Oil is running out, their population is going up, there is no time to waste.

ZAKARIA: While skyrocketing oil prices drive Saudi Arabia's fastest growth in a decade, the Prince is forging economic reforms that expand the country's reach beyond oil.

MASOUD: What the Saudis really want to do is liberate themselves from dependence on oil, right? And have a kind of productive, industrialized economy, like the countries of the developed west.

ZAKARIA: It is urgent because its young population is rapidly growing.

FRIEDMAN: In order to get wealthy, they just had to drill the ground instead of drilling and unlocking their people and their energy, entrepreneurship and creativity.

ZAKARIA: The Crown Prince wants to get more Saudis to work. And in the private sector, especially women,

MASOUD: Women in Saudi Arabia are hungry, right? They want opportunity because they're looking for any opportunity to actually do something.

ZAKARIA: His economic plan is called Vision 2030.

MASOUD: They're looking at other ways to diversify their economy and one of the natural ones of course is tourism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just endless potential.

ZAKARIA: The plans crown jewel, NEOM, is a futuristic $500 billion entertainment city in the desert. It all seemed to be moving forward, but then came the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. MBS lost some key foreign business partners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Richard Branson said he would freeze ties with the Saudi Kingdom.

ZAKARIA: Now a few years later, the majority of foreign businesses seem to have moved on. They're running to Saudi Arabia with open arms. And while the US remains angry, at home support for MBS particularly among young people is surging. One more factor that may keep MBS in power is nationalism.

MASOUD: People would have the sense of belonging to the state because they are Saudis, not because they are Wahhabis or because they have a particular way of understanding Islam.


ZAKARIA: Before MBS, Saudi foreign policy had been quiet even docile. The Crown Prince put it in overdrive, directed against an arch enemy, Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You called the Ayatollah Khamenei, the new Hitler of the Middle East.


ZAKARIA: MBS launched proxy battles against his Shiite rival. When Saudi Arabia went to war against Iran backed rebels in Yemen, the conflict spiraled into a humanitarian catastrophe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outside of Kabul International Airport, chaos reigns.

ZAKARIA: But as America's commitment to the region began to change, MBS was rewriting the kingdom's foreign policy.

BIN SALMAN (through translation): All that we asked for is to have a good and distinguished relationship with Iran.

ZAKARIA: A fragile ceasefire halted the fighting in Yemen. Even more radical, glimmers of a detente with Israel after MBS called the Jewish state, a potential ally.

Mohammed bin Salman is a young man in a hurry. He has thrown so many balls in the air, foreign policy, domestic reform, economic liberalization, all within a framework of increasing authoritarianism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is our best hope for the kinds of reforms of the government or the economy and of the society that we want and now Saudis want. But at the same time, he is the greatest impediment right now between Washington and Riyadh.

ZAKARIA: As another energy crisis batters America, President Biden heads to the region, can this balance continue to work? I'll give you my thoughts when we return.



ZAKARIA: Let me begin this brief commentary on a personal note. I knew Jamal Khashoggi. 18 years ago when I traveled to Saudi Arabia to write a cover story for Newsweek, he was one of the people who briefed me and then spent some time with me while I was in that country.

We have with us Jamal Khashoggi.

ZAKARIA: I had a television show on PBS before I got to CNN. And I invited him on there to talk about the future of his country.

And then next, maybe women will be able to drive.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I'm sure it will have an also eventually.

ZAKARIA: He was well read and thoughtful, a Saudi reformer, but very much a Saudi patriot. I reacted to his death personally, viscerally, with a sense of horror and disgust, but also a great sadness for the loss of a friend. But I've tried to keep in mind some larger factors when thinking about where the United States should go in its overall relationship with Saudi Arabia. That relationship between Washington and Riyadh is often presented as a trade off between human rights and real politic.

But the truth is more complex. First, Washington does not have the power to choose who will rule Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is a strange country with three distinct features, tribes, religion and oil, all interacting in complex ways. The ruling family has been able to maintain power for so long, because it has managed and manipulated the system very effectively. And if Mohammed bin Salman was somehow toppled, the most likely outcome is the return of a conservative traditional element to Saudi government.

There are very few Jeffersonian Democrats out there in the kingdom. The fact remains that MBS has done more reform in Saudi Arabia in the past few years, that took place in the previous several decades. Saudi Arabia today is a different country. And yet, it is also true that MBS punishes dissent, sometimes savagely. He's pursued a foreign policy that does at times reckless, and fuels the Sunni-Shia conflict that is causing so much turmoil in the Middle East.

The Biden administration needs help lowering the price of oil, and so now it comes to a Saudi Arabia that is rich and emboldened. But in reality, the two countries should find a broader way to effect a reconciliation that is geared at bringing greater stability to the Middle East. That means ending the war in Yemen, dampening sectarian divides, creating a better working relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and finally integrating Israel into the region fully.

The oil rich states of the Middle East are going to be flushed with money for years to come, as energy prices are likely to stay high. The challenge will be to put this money to good use, and actually modernize the region. Not just by buying fancy western goods, but by investing to create a Middle East that becomes once again one of the centers of knowledge, learning and culture in the world.

If Washington can convince Mohammed bin Salman to the best way to redeem his reputation, is to demonstrate his ability to truly transform his country and the region. Then perhaps something good can come out of the brutal murder of Jamal. It will never justify, nothing can, but it might ensure that my friend did not die in vain.

Thank you for watching, I'm Fareed Zakaria.