Saudi prince to visit Spain as part of global charm offensive
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, shown here at the United Nations last week, has been on a charm offensive. Photo: Bryan Smith/AFP
Saudi Arabia's crown prince will travel to Madrid next week as part of his global tour aimed at projecting a new liberal image of his conservative kingdom.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman's will meet with King Felipe VI on Thursday, the royal palace announced on Friday. His visit comes after a weeks long tour of the United States, Britain and Egypt, where the self-styled moderniser courted business leaders and signed a host of multimillion dollar deals.
Before his Madrid stop, the crown prince will spend two days in France, where more than a dozen memorandums of understanding in tourism, energy and transportation are expected to be signed between French and Saudi organisations.
Prince Mohammed's diplomatic stops come after a tumultuous period at home that saw a major military shake-up and a royal purge as he consolidates power to a level unseen by previous rulers.
His global tour is meant to "garner recognition and acceptance as the de facto leader and next king of Saudi Arabia," Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University, told AFP.
"This is a signal both to domestic as well as international observers that he is in charge and can leave the country for several weeks without any challenge to his authority," he added.
The 32-year-old prince, well-known as MBS, has used his global tour to project his dazzling reforms including the historic lifting of a ban on women driving, cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.
"There is little genuine affection for Saudi Arabia across the West," Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told AFP. "MBS's clear break with Saudi taboos on women and religious tolerance have been welcomed, but with a fair amount of enduring scepticism."