Saudi Arabia and especially its young crown prince – who has been variously portrayed as naïve, venal and blood-thirsty – appear to have vastly misjudged the reaction to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who opposed the new heir’s unchecked efforts to reshape the kingdom and the entire Middle East region with his own vision. The 33-year-old Mohammed bin Salman has gotten away with quite a lot since his elevation just 16 months ago to the role of heir-apparent to the throne.

While praised as the reformist behind measures like allowing women to drive, he detained dozens of members of the royal family and top business leaders at the Ritz Carlton until they agreed to pay financial settlements for unspecified “violations;” has arrested and imprisoned scores of human rights and women’s rights activists; pursued a war in neighboring Yemen where routine flouting of human rights and international battlefield rules have led to the death of at least 10,000 civilians an...

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