The episode surely stirred the ire of the crown prince in its handling of the savage murder of our colleague Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. “It blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go, ‘Oh, I guess he’s really not a reformer,’ ” Mr. Minhaj says of MBS. He declared that the crown prince’s nickname is Abu Rasasa, or “father of the bullet,” recalling the arrests and prosecutions under his rule. “Strong-arming, coercion, detaining people — these are MBS’s go-to moves,” Mr. Minhaj said, “and he’s been getting away with all of it.” For a comedian, it was a deadly serious monologue, and much of it on target. It remains available on Netflix outside the kingdom and is still on YouTube.
Netflix said it pulled the episode to comply with a Saudi cyberlaw that deems a crime the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.” It’s too bad that more technology titans won’t show a little more backbone standing up to censors and despots.
The crown prince dreams of economic modernization under political dictatorship. He wanted early in his rule to respond to the yearning of a bulging population of young people for Western entertainment and culture. He eased the suffocating control of the strict religious police, making way for more Western entertainment, and granted women the right to drive, while making a high-profile tour of the United States’ technology hubs last year in search of support for his modernization blueprint, known as Vision 2030. The crown prince was looking to remake the kingdom of oil into the digital jewel of the desert.
But tyranny and modernization don’t make for natural partners. Transparency and free flows of information are more conducive to economic development than murdering a journalist and telling Stalin-sized lies about it. Since Mr. Khashoggi’s death, there does not appear to be any fundamental change in Riyadh, just window-dressing and damage control. Without true liberty for his people, the crown prince’s vision will remain profoundly occluded.