Give Saudi Arabia a chance, Macron says

PARIS – France’s President Emmanuel Macron took on critics of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday, saying it was too easy to criticise the young leader’s haste to reform and urged detractors to give him time.

Prince Mohammed, who was ending a three-day tour to France on Tuesday, has won Western plaudits for seeking to reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil, tackle chronic corruption and transform the deeply conservative, mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom.

But the severity and secrecy of an anti-corruption crackdown last November, after the prince ousted an older cousin as crown prince in a palace coup last June, has unnerved some investors.

Human rights groups also question how far the kingdom has come.

After a tense first exchange between the two leaders in Riyadh last November that was dominated by a difference of opinion on how to handle Riyadh’s regional rival Iran, Mr Macron and Prince Mohammed sought to get to know each other and work on what they have in common rather than their differences.

“I hear legitimate questions from civil society, journalists about human rights and various sensitive issues concerning your country, (but) I’m also looking at what’s going on in the region. We have here a young leader who is going to be in the highest functions in a country where 70 per cent of the population is under 30,” Mr Macron said alongside the 32-year-old prince.

“We can have the choice to stick to our traditional positions and we can decide that the first acts of modernisation of his society are cosmetic. If we do that then we are leaving Prince Mohammed to face those in his area that think the opposite and decide to go backwards and keep to a political Islam or terrorism,” he said.

Under the reforms closely associated with the crown prince, social restrictions have been loosened, such as bans on cinemas and women driving. He has promised to promote a more moderate form of Islam.

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