After facing multiple setbacks, MBS appears to be appealing to any group willing to be entertained to bolster his image.
A year after the 9/11 attacks, Joel C Rosenberg published his first novel, "The Last Jihad." The book was about how an American president — a Republican — led the fight against terrorists in the wake of the worst attack on US soil.
In the book, the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed soon after — he was actually killed in 2011 — terrorist training camps were destroyed, and the US economy prospered.
But then the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussain spearheaded bombings in Western capitals, including a daring attack on the American president himself. Hussain even planned a nuclear war, and it fell upon US agents to stop that.
The novel also discusses a deal of the century to bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians by exploiting vast, fictional undersea petroleum reserves found near the Holy Land.
A Washington Post review called the book “an act of terrorism on the reader’s brain.” That didn’t stop Rosenberg from writing more novels over the years that dealt with the same theme — he now appears on Fox News as a “Russia expert.”
Rosenberg is an American-Israeli communication strategist, who had in the past worked for Benjamin Nethanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
He’s also a Christian Evangelical and was in Jeddah on the eve of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks where he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
“Our visit here on this profoundly important week is in defiance of those that aim to derail reform in the Kingdom through an embrace of hate and fear rather than courage and moderation,” a joint Saudi-Evangelicial group statement said.
Rosenberg praised MBS on his reforms and reprimanded US senators for not visiting the kingdom, which is “one of America’s most important strategic allies in the war against radical Islamist terrorism and in countering the rising Iranian threat.”
This is the second such meeting between the Christian Evangelicals and top Saudi officials since November last year when the first such interaction took place.
The visits are being seen as part of MBS’s efforts to bolster his public image in the US, where his government faces possible lawsuits over involvement in 9/11 conspiracy.
Out of the 19 terrorists who planned and executed those attacks, 15 were Saudis. Many families of around 3,000 victims are seeking financial compensation from Saudi Arabia.
The crown prince who runs the day-to-day affairs in the oil-rich Arab country has been battling with an image crisis since October last year when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed allegedly on his orders.
Since outmaneuvering others in the royal family to become the crown prince in 2015, MBS has tried to come across as a young reformer who wants to change the conservative society and open up its economy.
Under his watch, Saudi Arabia has eased restrictions on women, allowing them to drive and travel without a guardian’s consent. He’s also pushing to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil and offload the government stake in Saudi Aramco — the country’s main oil company — to private investors.
Yet, he faces increasing criticism for silencing dissent, imprisoning opponents and using a high-handed approach to run the government.
In recent years, Riyadh has arrested moderate Saudi clerics such as Salman al Odah for criticising MBS’s foreign policy, which has brought to the fore a blockade against erstwhile Gulf ally, Qatar.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in fighting between Saudi-backed government forces and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, has also tainted MBS’s reputation.
The arrest of hundreds of businessmen, including members of the royal family, in late 2017 ostensibly to weed out corruption was seen by many as a ruse by which MBS was consolidating more power, including control of companies such as MBC, the popular Arabic broadcaster.
But the Saudi crown prince has largely been shunned by the American Congress as only two senators have visited the kingdom in more than a year.
It remains to be seen if white Evangelicals who make up a strong voter base in the US can help win support for the young prince.