The Economist sparks criticism for 'racist' depiction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The Economist sparks criticism for 'racist' depiction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
3 min read
01 August, 2022
The Economist publication has drawn the ire of activists online for its 'racist' illustrations of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which include imagery of a traditional Arab headdress with a bomb fuse attached.
A recent article depicted Saudi de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman in a 'racist' manner, according to activists online [Getty]

The British weekly newspaper, The Economist, has come under fire for a 'racist' depiction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a recently published article on the de facto Saudi leader.

The illustration, which was drawn by UK-based Israeli illustrator Noma Bar, shows a bomb fuse attached to the agal or igal- a rope-like accessory that holds together the ghutrah headdress, which Saudi and Gulf men often sport atop of their heads. Bin Salman’s face, however, is not visible in the illustration.

The profile, entitled ‘MBS: despot in the desert’ which written by the magazine’s Middle East correspondent Nicholas Pelham, discusses bin Salman’s childhood, and his ultimate rise to power as the Gulf kingdom’s de factor leader, as well other incidents, such as the killing of Washington Post journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi which sent shock waves around the world.

Several activists and personalities have widely condemned the illustration, labelling it 'insidious' and 'abhorrent'.

Palestinian-American writer and comedian Amer Zahr maintained that he is not a "defender of MbS", but called the image "racist", and urged The Economist to "do better".

Meanwhile, the German-based Saudi researcher Ghada AlMuhannah, denounced the artwork, calling it an "attack" on Arab visual identity.

Others called out the magazine’s cover for its "laziness", as the image showcases a silhouette of a typical Arab man, rather than a clear depiction of MbS himself, expressing that if the article wanted to "call out" the Saudi prince, the illustration should have depicted him directly.

The remaining graphics published in the article - such as one portraying MbS as a missile and an eyebrow in the shape of a sword- drew further criticism for 'xenophobia'.

Recently, the same publication was criticised for an article discussing why women in the Arab world are "fatter" than men, prompting activists online to accuse the publication of "fat-shaming" Arab women and for having racist undertones in its writing.

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Several news outlets and publications have previously come under fire for publishing racist and offensive pictures of Arabs and Muslims, notably the French Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, which has a history of publishing such racist imagery- notably the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The Economist is considered one of the favourite magazines of Westernised liberal elites worldwide.

The New Arab contacted The Economist for a comment on the issue but received no response at the time of publication.