Fox News correspondent Brett Baier promised to ask Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about a series of controversies in the royal’s first interview on American TV since 2019, set to air Wednesday. The "Special Report" anchor's interview with the controversial head of state comes after a week of lead-up interviews with various Saudi government and business leaders.
Earlier this week Baier spoke with Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alabrihim, Minister of Sports Abdulaziz bin Turki, Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb.
Baier's interviews open up a closer look at today's Saudi Arabia – a country that has courted its fair share of controversy in recent years, particularly the crown prince’s alleged role in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
"There are many things to ask him," Baier said, adding that the ministers have said they "don’t have time" for the controversy, but that they acknowledged a very real and heavy backlash they have felt.
His discussions with the ministers touched on various aspects of Saudi Arabian culture and the government’s vision for the future – in a country undergoing significant transformation as it seeks to modernize.
Norman Roule, a former senior Intelligence official who worked at both the CIA and ODNI, told Baier that women have experienced a significant expansion of rights in the country in recent years, which includes sending a female astronaut to launch from the U.S. earlier this year and increasing participation in business ownership.
"A few years ago women in Saudi Arabia could not drive," Roule noted. "Their ambassador to the United States is a formidable diplomat, Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bin Bandar – the daughter of a famous Saudi diplomat."
"I see a country that has underwent tectonic changes at a scale and pace and degree that no country in modern times has seen," he added. "These changes have been positive."
Lina al Maeena, a business owner in Jeddah, said the transformation she has witnessed has been "shock therapy" for Saudi society: Any change would normally happen over "decades," but al Maeena claims the country has "surpassed… so many of our targets."
Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Alabrihim explained that the country has invested in every area and level of society to try and progress it as part of Vision 2030, a "blueprint of where we want to be and how we will get there."
"It's designed to address our long-term economic challenges and risks through three things: diversifying the economy, empowering the youth of the kingdom, and building institutions that can help carry this beyond 2030 and beyond," Alabrihim said.
The most globally noticeable and more recently discussed aspect of this plan focuses on sports – particularly Saudi Arabia’s big-budget acquisition of talent from across Europe, including the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
The Public Investment Fund, run by the Saudi royal family, has also purchased sports teams such as England’s Newcastle United, which went from finishing 11th out of 20 teams in 2022 to top 4 in 2023 and earning a prestigious place in the Champions League following the change in ownership.
Baier addressed the issue with Sports Minister bin Turki, noting that many accuse Saudi Arabia of trying to use sports to enhance their reputation – a process known as "sports washing."
Bin Turki said the investment has paid dividends already with increased participation in sports across the country, and that the government wants the children of the country to "grow loving these sports."
"Even our national teams in 2017, we had 32 federations. Today we have 97 federations in different sports and different activities," he said, highlighting the improved performance of the Saudi Arabian team in recent years.
Brett Baier’s interview with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will air Wednesday at 6 p.m. EDT on the Fox News Channel.