The prince behind Saudi Arabia reforms

What’s happening in Saudi Arabia is not a revolution — some crimes are still punished with beheading, and women still need permission from a male relative to travel overseas. But things are changing here.

Authorities earlier this year lifted a ban on female drivers, and allowed women to into sports stadiums for the first time.

For example: Comic-Con has come to the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom. Just last year, this celebration of comic book superheroes, with no gender segregation, would probably have been shut down by the country’s religious police.

SAUDI-ENTERTAINMENT-COMIC

Actors dressed up as members of Marvel’s Avengers perform on stage during Saudi Arabia’s first-ever Comic-Con event, in Jeddah, February 16, 2017. The three-day festival of anime, pop art, video gaming and film-related events is part of a government initiative to bring more entertainment to Saudi Arabia which bans alcohol, public cinemas and theatre.

Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

The man people say is behind this relaxing of restrictions is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Salman, and he wants to modernize the closed-off kingdom.

Yesterday he launched a new anti-terrorism coalition, reports correspondent CBS News correspondent Holly Williams.

crown-prince-244-ap-17300307521432.jpg

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks at the opening ceremony of Future Investment Initiative Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 24, 2017. He has promised to return the ultraconservative kingdom to a more “moderate” Islam.

Saudi Press Agency via AP

The Crown Prince is only 32 years old, and he isn’t just the King’s anointed successor; he’s already enormously powerful in his own right.

Prince Mohammed has used that power to round up more than 200 members of the Saudi elite — all accused of corruption — locking them up in a luxury hotel in Riyadh.

Critics say the Crown Prince is removing his rivals and detractors. But ordinary Saudis seem delighted.

“It should’ve happened earlier,” said Bandar al-Otaibi, who sells hunting falcons. “It’s brought us great happiness.”

The Saudi Arabian royal family has long depended on the support of Islamic clerics to rule this country of around 30 million. 

The big question now is whether these reforms will, sooner or later, spark a backlash from conservative Saudis.

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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