Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Journalist HARDtalk


Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Journalist

Stephen Sackur speaks to Saudi journalist, commentator and current political exile Jamal Khashoggi. Are recent events in Saudi Arabia about raw power or real reform?


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Transcript


LineFromTo

Now on BBC News, it's

time for HARDtalk.

0:00:020:00:07

Welcome to HARDtalk. I am Stephen

Sackur. There are no tanks on the

0:00:130:00:21

streets of Riyadh, but make no

mistake, what has just happened in

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Saudi Arabia represents a revolution

of sorts. King Salman and his son

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Crown Prince Mohammed have started a

purge of princes and ministers and

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potential rivals, part of a grand

plan to entrench their power and

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transformed the country. My guess is

Saudi journalist and current

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political exile, Jamal Khashoggi. --

guest. Is the Saudi drama about raw

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power or real reform?

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Jamal Khashoggi, welcome to

HARDtalk.

Thank you for having me.

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It is a pleasure. You have been

calling for a long time now for

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reform in the Kingdom of Saudi

Arabia. We now see a man at the top

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who appears determined to deliver on

reform. Are you delighted with what

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you are seeing in the Saudi capital?

I might sound throughout the show to

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have conflicting messages. Yes, I am

delighted. But we have seen issues

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with one man rule. It always ends

with disaster. Saudi Arabia was not

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a democracy, but it used to be ruled

by consensus, not between us and the

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royal family, but within the royal

family itself. Perhaps that

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safeguarded Saudi Arabia in the past

from adventurous policies. But today

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it is ruled only by one man. Not

even just the family. He is the sole

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leader of Saudi Arabia. He owns the

future of Saudi Arabia. It is up to

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him to drive us to prosperity and

reform or wars, we don't know.

Let

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me just be clear. When you talk

about one man, are you talking about

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the Crown Prince, or the actual king

of Saudi Arabia, King Salman? Let's

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face it, the monarch is King Salman,

but I suspect you are not talking

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about him.

I am talking about Crown

Prince Mohammed. King Salman has

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delegated responsibility to his son.

Not officially, but in reality.

Your

0:03:170:03:23

point about the end of consensual

decision-making within the royal

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family raises an important question.

And surely, Mohammed bin Salman and

0:03:270:03:35

his father are delivering a simple

message, there are many, many

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corrupt people in the royal family.

They have put 11 princes under

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detainment. They have been

responsible of milking the Kingdom

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of billions and billions of dollars.

Very much correct. Corruption in

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Saudi Arabia is endemic. It has

depleted Saudi resources. It has

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corrupted even the mindset of the

business environment. And it had to

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end. And we have been saying that,

us writers. So, he has to do that.

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But is he doing it the right way? I

can add to the list 10 others,

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royals and non-royals, who are

corrupt. Every single person

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arrested, there has to be 10 others

who should be with them. And then

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the council is corrupted itself.

What is corruption? It is still

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being practised until the date Saudi

radio. So, there is a need to be

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transparency. -- until today in

Saudi Arabia. There is need for a

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media and open dialogue about it, of

which there is none.

You have to

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start somewhere. Clearly, he started

with a very dramatic move against,

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we believe, at least 500 people, and

I hear there will be more arrested

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in the next few days. And the

message from Mohamed bin Salman to

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these people seems to be quite

simple, you have taken from the

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Kingdom and its oil riches all of

these hundreds of billions of

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dollars and we want to take the

money back to the people of Saudi

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Arabia can enjoy the fruits of these

riches. Surely that message

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resonates with all the people in the

Kingdom.

I think we should give him

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the benefit of the doubt. But should

not we discuss that in Saudi media,

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in a consultation body? Those things

are essential. Yes, we need to crash

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radicalism and corruption, but it is

being done by one direction by one

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man rule. -- crush.

Are you saying

there is no space at all to discuss

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the nature of Mahmoud bin Salman's

initiatives, including the

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Anti-Corruption Drive? I know that

Saudis are extremely wired to social

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media, one of the most connected in

the world. All sorts of young Saudis

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have tweeted. Here are a few I will

quote. This man says this represents

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the Saudi dreams we have been

waiting for. Thank God we now have a

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vision and a print to carry forward

our ambitions. Another the mouse is

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this. A leader speaking for the

benefit of the future. This person

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says we have an extraordinary Crown

Prince, the saviour of our

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generation, working for a great leap

towards the future! That is the

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voice of young Saudis!

Very much

correct. If I was to speak like

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them, I would also be in Saudi

Arabia. But rather are the voices,

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and they are not being heard. They

are being told to be silent. They

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have signed things saying they will

stay silent. The list of Saudis

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banned from travel is growing every

day. Are you not just feeling a

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little personally sour because you

have run into problems with the

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regime because some of the things

you have said on Twitter in the past

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few months have irritated. And also

your former boss, one of the richest

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men in Saudi Arabia, Prince Walid,,

he is also in detention as well, and

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you are seeing bad things with that.

It is insulting to be told to be

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silent. I am more worried than sour.

I am worried for my country. I

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cannot retire in America happily in

just the right unimportant issues

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and go on with my life. -- and just

write. What is worrying me the most

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is one man rule. We need reform, but

one man rule is bad, as I said

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earlier. It always goes wrong in any

country, whether it is Saudi Arabia,

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Germany, Iraq...

We will get to the

nature of autocracy in just a

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moment, but just to focus on your

former boss, someone we are familiar

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with, one of Saudi Arabia's richest

and most prominent business people.

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He owns hotels around the world and

has huge stakes in America's

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businesses. There he is in detention

in Riyadh. Are you saying there are

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no grounds to be holding him and

that is a purely political act by

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Mahmoud bin Salman?

No, I am not

saying that. There has to be an

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investigation. If there is

corruption, perhaps the authorities

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know better than I. But as far as I

know, he was not a threat to Prince

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Mohammed, and was in fact supportive

of him. A few days before his

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arrest, he sent me a text message

urging me to come back to Saudi

0:09:460:09:50

Arabia. He said enlightened minds

like you should be with us, joining

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my brother, Prince Mohammed, in

building the fourth state. That was

0:09:550:10:03

him talking to me and asking me to

return. He was very much supportive

0:10:030:10:07

and was not challenging the Crown

Prince.

That is interesting. You are

0:10:070:10:13

suggesting to me that the prince,

one of the key figures in all of

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this drama, had no idea, even 48

hours before being detained, no idea

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that this was coming.

Yes, exactly.

He sent me this message and I am

0:10:220:10:28

sure he sent to many other people

because that his habit. He wanted

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Prince Mohammed to know that he is

supporting him.

Have you spoken to

0:10:330:10:37

him by text, any other form of

communication, since that?

No. I

0:10:370:10:44

texted him but there was no reply.

Let's talk about the stability of

0:10:440:10:49

the leadership now. You say it is

all about one man, all about Crown

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Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has

moved against some of the most

0:10:530:10:58

powerful princes in the house of

Saud, including the former head of

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the National Guard, and others. Do

you believe his grip now is

0:11:040:11:08

absolutely unchallengeable?

Yes, I

think so. I do not think the royals

0:11:080:11:17

can even gather and create a front

against him for a number of reasons.

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Number one, they are so fragmented.

Number two, they lack a leader. They

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don't have that leader, a moral

leader, who can stand for values and

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for Saudi Arabia, who is totally

independent and respected by all of

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them. And lastly, because he is

using the stick of corruption. And

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if not all, most of them, somehow,

they are involved in some form of

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corruption or abuse of power. So, he

has the upper hand on those issues.

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So, I think he has won for now, but

his biggest threat is not the

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royals, clergy, but the economy. He

has to succeed economically.

I will

0:12:240:12:27

talk to you about that soon. But he

thought about what we might learn

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from not just Saudi Arabia but Arab

nations experiencing uprisings since

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the first Arab Spring in 2011.

Surely the message of all all of

0:12:340:12:38

this is that street protests and

toppling governments has been

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negative for the nations of the Arab

world. What Mohamed bin Salman seems

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to be saying is I know we have to

transform ourselves, we have to

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modernise, we have to change, and I

will be that agent of change. You

0:12:550:12:59

call him in autocrat, comparing him

to Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein,

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and others, but surely the message

of the last two years is that the

0:13:050:13:09

best hope a nation, Arab nation,

like Saudi Arabia has. Someone who

0:13:090:13:14

wants to use his power for genuine

reform and change.

Not by choice,

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why fact, de facto. He is the best

choice for Saudi Arabia. That is

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what they are saying, they wish him

luck. He has to succeed. That is

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what will decide the future of Saudi

Arabia and also his future. It is

0:13:330:13:37

for him to succeed. The people of

Saudi Arabia are very much believing

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in Mahmoud bin Salman today. He

hardly has any opposition. He hardly

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has any serious opposition, we will

say. So, he has all of the floor for

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himself for the next few years to

deliver his plan.

OK, and now to the

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detail of a plan. You refer to the

vision of 2030. It has various

0:14:010:14:07

elements to it. Starting with the

economy, he says he wants to develop

0:14:070:14:11

a purely poached whale Saudi Arabian

economy, investing in technology and

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building a new city in the

north-west, some calling it a robot

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city, such will be the reliance on

new technology. He wants massive

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infrastructure spending. Are you

suggesting to me this is all

0:14:270:14:32

fantasy, he cannot deliver on this?

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fantasy, he cannot deliver on this?

lead their no, he can probably build

0:14:400:14:43

the cities but will the cities

succeed?

0:14:430:14:52

two cities in Saudi Arabia which

have not succeeded. King Abdullah's

0:14:520:14:54

financial city and King

0:14:540:14:57

have not succeeded. King Abdullah's

financial city and King Abdullah

0:14:570:14:57

industrial city.

I have been to one

of them. I have seen the grand

0:14:570:15:03

ambition. The city was pretty empty

when I was there. But it is all

0:15:030:15:08

about the ability of Saudi Arabia

two times for myths of from a dairy

0:15:080:15:13

--a fairly sort of crude oil economy

for something that is fit for

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purpose in the 21st century as a

global leading economy and surely

0:15:180:15:22

that ambition has to be Saudi

Arabia's future?

IC to faults in the

0:15:220:15:29

vision and I wish I could express

those in a local Saudi newspaper and

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we need to do that in Saudi Arabia.

Number one, it is styled Darwin

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approach. That will not work for a

country as big as Saudi Arabia. It

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would work for a small country, a

city-state like Dubai, Doha or Abu

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Dhabi but not Saudi Arabia. Also, it

is not based on jobs. Saudi Arabians

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are addicted to foreign Labour. We

need to resolve the culture of jobs

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and Saudis will go back to work.

There are all millions Saudis who

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are not in jobs today, not 2 million

as the government suggests. The

0:16:150:16:20

actual number is 4 million. Every

year, 250,000 young Saudis go to the

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job market. That is his biggest task

and he should spend more time on

0:16:270:16:31

this problem rather than building a

new city in Saudi Arabia.

But you

0:16:310:16:35

said the young people appear to be

overwhelmingly with him and one

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reason is not just because he talks

about this new economic proposition

0:16:390:16:43

but he also talks the language of

fundamental social change, not least

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for women in Saudi Arabia. He has

decreed that all women will be able

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to drive illegally come the summer

of 2018. He is giving them places on

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the consultative Council. They are

going to be free to attend sports

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events. This is very important

stuff, isn't it? He is signalling

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that Saudi Arabia's culture, its

social life, it is fundamentally

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changing.

Very much, and I

campaigned for it and many other

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writers campaigned for it. It was an

issue that we were pushing for

0:17:230:17:29

almost every single day. But now we

have put that behind us and we are

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moving forward and he is enjoying

all the support from the young

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people. He needs to look at the

unemployment issue. He has to

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provide jobs for millions of Saudis.

I don't think that can be done from

0:17:470:17:52

this top-down approach by building

new cities but rather, starting from

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scratch and bringing back the

culture of work to the Saudi

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society. The culture of work among

Saudis is dead because of our

0:18:020:18:07

addiction to foreign Labour over the

last 40 years. Almost every single

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job is done by a foreigner and we

need to be free from that.

What

0:18:130:18:19

about the religious element to all

of this? In a keynote speech just

0:18:190:18:24

last month, Mohammed bin Salman

pledged, and I'm using his words, to

0:18:240:18:29

return Saudi Arabia to moderate

Islam. There is a very complicated

0:18:290:18:37

relationship between the rulers of

the Kingdom and the leading clerics

0:18:370:18:41

and religious authorities in Saudi

Arabia. Can he deliver on this shift

0:18:410:18:47

of the religious Tanah and tone of

the kingdom?

Yes, he can. Because in

0:18:470:18:56

the Court of history, young people

are becoming more and more moderate.

0:18:560:19:00

Number two, he only needs to unplug

and government support for

0:19:000:19:04

radicalism. Radicalism was tolerated

by the government. Radicalism in

0:19:040:19:11

Saudi Arabia that was put into the

Saudi curriculum, the Saudi

0:19:110:19:19

education system, the mosques, it

was a loud and tolerated by the

0:19:190:19:22

government. It the government pulled

the plug, those clergy is dependent

0:19:220:19:30

on the government, they will go back

home and seek their own safety.

The

0:19:300:19:36

reason why so many people, not least

in the White House behind you, care

0:19:360:19:40

about what is happening is -- in

Saudi Arabia is because of the

0:19:400:19:44

strategically important kingdom --

the -- the strategically important

0:19:440:19:48

role the kingdom plays in the

region. Mohammed bin Salman has, if

0:19:480:19:53

you like, being the director of

Saudi Arabia's military assault on

0:19:530:19:57

the rebels in Yemen and seems to be

choreographing a very co-ordinated

0:19:570:20:05

move, for example encouraging former

prime minister Hariri to resign in

0:20:050:20:11

Lebanon, getting tough with Iran,

sending signals to Qatar, that's

0:20:110:20:19

their radicalism will not be

tolerated any more. Is all these

0:20:190:20:23

different ways in which Saudi Arabia

is mixing its muscle will be

0:20:230:20:27

intensified in the coming months and

years?

It has to succeed. Before it

0:20:270:20:40

could intensify, what about its

chance of success? That worries us.

0:20:400:20:44

As a citizen, I want to stop uranium

expansionism, sectarian expansionism

0:20:440:20:51

but I don't want war with the

Iranians, it will damage both

0:20:510:20:55

countries. I would like to see Saudi

Arabians more inspired for change,

0:20:550:21:03

such as the Arab Spring. It is not a

conspiracy as many Saudi people

0:21:030:21:08

suggest. Young people in a jeep in

Syria, they want better regimes,

0:21:080:21:13

they want a say in their government.

Unfortunately, I see my country

0:21:130:21:19

countering such aspirations. That

could drive Iran and Isis and

0:21:190:21:26

radicalism a way from the region by

placing those factors of change

0:21:260:21:30

which are still happening in Yemen,

in Syria. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia can

0:21:300:21:38

play a role in bringing all you many

is together to find a power-sharing

0:21:380:21:42

formula and that will end the war.

-- the people of Yemen.

But that is

0:21:420:21:50

not happening. I wonder if you

believe whether Mohammed bin Salman

0:21:500:21:54

is seriously contemplating war with

Iran?

I hope not. We have to wonder

0:21:540:22:00

what kind of exchange is having with

the American Administration and the

0:22:000:22:04

Americans giving promises they

cannot fulfil. Are the Americans

0:22:040:22:09

behind this drum of war that has

been sounded by us, the Saudis? It's

0:22:090:22:15

not clear yet. I don't think the

Americans will on our behalf but who

0:22:150:22:20

is going to do the fighting? I hope

not Saudi Arabia. Even though I

0:22:200:22:27

would like Iran out of our rage and

-- region, war with Iran is very

0:22:270:22:31

bad.

Final question, you warned me

that I might find some of your

0:22:310:22:37

position is confusing or conflicted

and I have. Throughout the course of

0:22:370:22:43

this conversation, you have

suggested that many of the things

0:22:430:22:47

Mohammed bin Salman is trying to do

is the right thing for Saudi Arabia

0:22:470:22:51

but you have also in this interview

compared him to autocrats including

0:22:510:22:55

Putin, Saddam Hussein and others.

You ultimately believe he represents

0:22:550:23:01

Saudi Arabia's best chance and will

you at some point go home to try to

0:23:010:23:06

be part of the change and reform of

your kingdom?

I have no option but

0:23:060:23:17

to wish he leads Saudi Arabia

because I will not vote him out, we

0:23:170:23:21

don't have elections in Saudi

Arabia. He won the throne, really.

0:23:210:23:26

Even within the family. There is no

serious competition or threat to

0:23:260:23:32

him, even within the family. I wish

I could go home but the environment

0:23:320:23:39

is not welcoming to me or any other

Saudi writers, economists who are

0:23:390:23:46

independent. All the people around

him are yes-men and he wants that.

0:23:460:23:52

He thinks he can do it alone. He

thinks he is that she thinks he is

0:23:520:24:00

the lead of the country has been

waiting for so I will just settle

0:24:000:24:04

for my role to be here in Washington

and hopefully provide a loyal

0:24:040:24:12

opposition.

Jamal Khashoggi, we

thank you for being on HARDtalk

0:24:120:24:18

Thank you very much.

0:24:180:24:29

Stephen Sackur speaks to Saudi journalist, commentator and current political exile Jamal Khashoggi. There's neither blood nor tanks on the streets of Riyadh, but what has happened in Saudi Arabia in recent days represents a revolution of sorts. King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed have launched a purge of princes, ministers and potential rivals - part of a grand plan to entrench their power and transform the country. Is this about raw power, or real reform?