Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “new Hitler of the Middle East” to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in an interview published Thursday.
“[Iran’s] supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,” the prince, commonly referred to by his initials MBS, said in the lengthy interview. “We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
Iran has a long history of sponsoring or promoting terrorism across the Middle East, dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
MBS’s comments come amid escalating tensions between the two countries after Saudi Arabia says its forces intercepted a missile fired from Yemen targeting one of its major airports, which authorities have described as a “blatant act of military aggression” by Iran, acting through its Yemeni proxies.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi responded to the “adventurist” crown prince by accusing him of “immature, inconsiderate, and baseless remarks and behavior,” multiple agencies reported.
“No one in the world and in the international arena gives credit to him because of his immature and weak-minded behavior and remarks,” Qasemi said. “I strongly advise him to think and ponder upon the fate of the famous dictators of the region in the past few years now that he is thinking of considering their policies and behavior as a role model.”
During the interview, the Prince also outlined his country’s latest anti-corruption purge, in which around 200 elites –including princes, ministers, and business tycoons—were arrested or fired in recent weeks.
“Our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom,” he told Friedman. “Over the years the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up.”
The young prince also explained how Saudi Arabia is now progressing on issues such as women’s rights, which he claims fits in with centuries-old Islamic traditions of women having a role in a society. This year alone, MBS announced that he will lift a ban on women driving, and the kingdom has also legalized yoga, held its first women’s basketball tournament, and opened positions for Saudi women to work in the Ministry of Justice.
The reforms fit in with the country’s wider modernization movement known as the “Vision 2030” economic program, which Saudi leadership officially approved in April. The program, alongside increasing economic growth, seeks to loosen some of the rules around women’s rights.
“Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam,” the prince said. “We are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins—and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and Saudi Arabia before 1979.”