Consolidation of power in Mohammed bin Salman’s hands has upended all aspects of society, including previously untouchable ultra-elite

Outside a Riyadh shopping centre last month, Zeina Farhan was walking with her headscarf around her shoulders when the religious police pulled up. She froze in fear as a man in the driver’s seat lowered his window. “Please madam, can you just cover your hair during prayer time,” he asked. “I said OK, he said thank you, and he drove off. That was it. It was stunning.”

For all of her adult life, a run-in with the feared enforcers of Saudi Arabia’s societal norms would have led to a much harsher outcome. A woman who dared uncover her hair in public at any time, let alone during prayer, probably would have faced a fine and maybe jail. “Insults, prisons, whippings, shame,” said Farhan, 32. “To see them like that showed how much things have changed.”

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