The Saudi media trailing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman around the US is burnishing the young leader’s image as a reformer.
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The Jeddah-based newspaper Okaz ran a story with the headline “Crown Prince looks to turn the kingdom into a technology producer” with images of the prince with Virgin Galactic’s founder Richard Branson.
Al Riyadh dedicated a page to the tour on its website, with a smiling photo of the prince and US President Donald Trump under the banner “strengthening partnership.”
Prince Mohammed, heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter, is on a three-week tour of the US to promote his effort to open up the Saudi economy through his “Vision 2030.”
Photographed wearing a suit and open-neck shirt, he has been portraying himself as a new type of leader that will remake the once closed-off kingdom and take his people with him. No mention was made of ousting clerics and locking up dozens of the country’s businessmen along the way.
The trip is playing front and center in Saudi newspapers, with the coverage reflecting its significance for a country that ranks 168th out of 180 on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index – better than North Korea, but worse than Iran.
Some stops are shown differently, with Saudi Arabia delivering two messages – one for the international audience and another for its domestic.
A meeting with religious leaders in New York was openly touted as including two rabbis in an English statement sent by the Saudi embassy. At the official Saudi Press Agency, the Arabic coverage didn’t mention their names or affiliations, or that the meeting had included rabbis. That version was carried verbatim by Al Arabiya and several Saudi newspapers.
That the Saudi media is behind him isn’t really a surprise. Other organizations were more scathing. “No amount of flattering PR can hide human rights crackdown under ‘reformer’ Crown Prince,” Amnesty International said in a statement on March 29.
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