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Bringing Silicon Valley-style to Saudi Arabia

Mohammed bin Salman is bringing Silicon Valley-style disruption to Saudi Arabia.

A year and a half ago, I returned with my family to my native Saudi Arabia after a lengthy stay in the U.S. Our oldest, eight-year old Leen, had learned from her upbringing to ask lots of questions, and they started right away. “Baba,” she asked me, “why are there no women drivers here?”

I didn’t have a good answer, just like I didn’t have about any number of other things people of my generation had been unsatisfied with for decades but couldn’t really change. But as it happens, a few months later, I didn’t need an answer, because Saudi women were given the right to drive.

That was just one of many carefully-considered reforms that had taken place at home. The man responsible for them is Mohammed bin Salman, 32, the crown prince in line to be the country’s next sovereign. “MBS,” as he is known everywhere, has been making global headlines for his bold steps to reshape Saudi society. Women driving is but one of them. A dramatic fight against corruption and an ambitious vision for the year 2030 are others.

MBS is currently on an American tour, and in a recent 60 Minutes profile, he calmly answered tough questions on the theme of whether he is rushing things as a young leader. To the contrary, he said — at one point arguing that what he is doing is “extremely necessary.”

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