Taking on Iran in an interview with The New York Times, Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the rival country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "the new hitler of the Middle East".
“But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” said Prince Mohammed in the interview that was published on Thursday.
The prince's comments come as tensions soar between regional arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. During the extraordinary general meeting of the Arab League held in Cairo last week, Saudi Arabia had warned that it would not stand idly by in the face of Iranian “aggression”.
Speaking on the Saudi purge that led to the arrest of princes and dozens of current and former ministers earlier this month, the prince called the notion that "it was a power play to eliminate his rivals" ludicrous. According to the NYT article, the prince said that many prominent members being held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh had already "publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms", and that “a majority of the royal family” is already behind him.
Prince Mohammed said that when his father, "who has never been tainted by corruption charges during his nearly five decades as governor of Riyadh", ascended to the throne in 2015 (at a time of falling oil prices), he vowed to put a stop to the corruption "taking place from the 1980s until today".
Each suspected billionaire or prince is given two choices, the publication quoted Prince Mohammed as saying. “We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement,” — which means signing over cash or shares of their business to the Saudi state treasury, according to the article.
“About 1 percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there," claimed the prince in the interview. When asked about the money being recovered, MBS — as he is often referred to — said "it could eventually be around $100 billion in settlements."
Last month, the Saudi crown prince had vowed to restore “moderate, open” Islam in the kingdom known for its ultra-conservative rule.
“Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and [daily life in] Saudi Arabia before 1979," the article quoted the prince as saying.
At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia, the prince said in the NYT interview. “The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman! So if the Prophet embraced all of this, do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?”
Analysts are of the opinion that with a crackdown on dissenters and a charm offensive to woo the kingdom's swelling youth population, Saudi Arabia's king-in-waiting is cementing his grip on power.
The 32-year-old crown prince is set to be the first millennial to occupy the throne in a country where half the population is under 25, though the timing of his ascension remains unknown.
Already viewed as the de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government, from defence to economy, MBS is seen as stamping out traces of internal dissent before any formal transfer of power from his 81-year-old father King Salman.