The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman journeyed to Saudi Arabia recently to interview the reformist Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Friedman tends to have a somewhat distorted view of the world. For example, he is too much in love with the way China organizes its society and economy. However, if what he found happening in the Kingdom is anywhere close to accuracy, it is the most hopeful development to occur in the Middle East in a very long time. One would have wished that Friedman had not used the shopworn phrase “Arab Spring” however.

The anti-corruption drive

Bin Salman denied that the mass roundups of Saudi royals and others in the anti-corruption drive are in any way a power grab. He claims that people who promised to repay the money they stole -- $100 billion by the last count – have been set free. A small number have been found to be innocent and have been set free. A lower number is still being obstinate and remain unwilling guests of the Saudi kingdom. The recovered funds should prove useful for starting a high tech industrial sector in Saudi Arabia.

Iran as the main enemy in the Middle East

The prince also waxed eloquent about the threat posed by Iran. He called that country’s supreme leader the “new Hitler.” Aided and abetted by former President Obama’s policy of appeasement, Iran has been building its influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon in a bid to reestablish the Persian Empire and to threaten Israel and the Arab Gulf states.

In the new aggressive attitude toward Iran, Bin Salman seems to be following the lead of President Trump, who recently called for an Arab NATO directed toward keeping Iran in check. The Trump policy is a reversal of the Obama doctrine that sought to achieve a détente with Iran even as that country threatened the peace of the Middle East and the world beyond.

The tacit alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel is another reaction to Iran’s imperial drive.

A more moderate form of Islam

Finally, Bin Salman wants to soften the theocratic regime in Saudi Arabia, granting more civil rights to women and religious minorities, and loosening the puritanical culture that has adhered m the Kingdom for the past few decades.

Saudi Arabia will not be a western country any time soon. However, the prince would like to see his country as a more traditional Islamic society that respects Muslim values that he sees as more in keeping with that view held by the Prophet Mohammed and not by modern sharia fanatics. If Bin Salman succeeds, the social and cultural changes that could sweep the Middle East could be profound indeed.