By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Originally Published in The New York Times December 4, 2017.
In June, Saudi Arabia — along with two other Persian Gulf states and Egypt — picked a fight with Qatar, on the grounds that the country is funding Islamic terrorism. The move was almost satirical, given that Saudi Arabia itself has long funded the spread of fundamentalist Salafi Islam, which is often associated with extremism.
However, this diplomatic spat seems to be more than just an example of Saudi Arabia’s pot calling Qatar’s kettle black. Saudi leaders could be using the conflict, which has resulted in a blockade of Qatar, as a strategic smoke screen to deflect attention from the simmering tension inside their own insular borders.
The recently promoted heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as M.B.S., has pledged to modernize the country. His agenda includes diversifying the Saudi economy beyond oil, expanding trade, bolstering employment and loosening restrictions on entertainment. But at least two domestic factors complicate his ambitions, and we may see them play out on the world stage in 2018.