What is happening at the Ritz?


In January 2002, the well-known US journalist Thomas L. Friedman published several aggressive articles about Saudi Arabia and the September 11 attacks. After that, he went to the Saudi embassy in Washington and surprisingly asked for a visa to travel to Riyadh.

Tom, as his friends call him, was sure his request would be declined and so he began writing an article about it. He was, however, shocked when he was told he had secured a visa and would be able to travel the very same day.

In the middle of February of the same year, Friedman traveled to Riyadh where he met King Abdullah who was then Crown Prince. He wrote an interesting article about his meeting with King Abdullah, including his peace initiative with Israel. Friedman then refused to reply to the questions of news agencies by telling them to ask Riyadh. He then returned to attacking the Kingdom with a series of articles accusing the Kingdom of spreading extremism. This lasted until 2015.

Friedman visited Riyadh once again, but this time as a lecturer on globalization. He also published an article supporting a nuclear agreement with Iran and accused Washington of being addicted to Saudi oil, which in his opinion makes Washington blind to radical Saudis.

The above is necessary context before discussing Friedman’s recent New York Times article about his interview with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. In it Friedman asks: What is happening at the Ritz? This is the first article I have read by him in which he exhibits an unprecedented passion for Saudi politics.

Friedman was surprised by what he saw and heard from the Crown Prince. He wrote: “I never thought I’d live long enough to write this sentence: The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia.”

In his article, Friedman mentioned that corruption engulfs about 10 percent of the total Saudi government and that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman commanded his team at the beginning of 2015 to collect data about corruption. When all the required data had been prepared, the suspects, who included princes and wealthy individuals, were arrested. When they were presented with their files, 95 percent of the suspects agreed to make settlements. About one percent of those detained were able to prove their innocence and they were released. Four percent insist that they are innocent and wish to go to court.

This is what is happening at the Ritz. As Arabs say, “the truth is what enemies have seen.” Friedman, one of the greatest media enemies of Saudi Arabia for the past 15 years, said of the reform process: “Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.”