BEIRUT, Lebanon — Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s arrival in the White House may signal the start of a less congenial American relationship with Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom could point to recent progress on a number of issues that have caused longstanding friction with the United States.
Long one of the world’s most prodigious executioners, Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that executions declined by 85 percent in 2020 because of legal reforms. Groups that have chronicled incitement against non-Muslims in Saudi textbooks say that the most offensive examples have been excised. And the sentences for two high-profile Saudis widely seen as prosecuted for their politics appear to have been calibrated to limit their time in prison as Mr. Biden takes charge of the kingdom’s most important ally.
Human rights campaigners have applauded the changes while emphasizing the many places where the kingdom still fails to ensure basic rights.
“There have been a lot of good reforms to be excited about, but the total absence of any kind of free expression and the continued political crackdown have mitigated Saudi Arabia getting more credit for these changes,” said Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East for Human Rights Watch.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Since his father ascended the throne in 2015, Prince Mohammed has become the kingdom’s driving force, pushing to diversify the economy away from oil and roll back strict social restrictions.
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