"Mohammed bin Salman’s treatment of domestic affairs seemed as headstrong as his treatment of foreign ones. Apparently in return for sanctioning the youngster’s accumulation of power, the clerical establishment secured the dismissal of the country’s first female minister, appointed in laxer times by Abdullah, the late king. Religious police resumed their raids on private premises. A young female accountant told us how they had detained a male colleague sharing her office, in violation of their codes. A spring festival in the south was shut down after prepubescent girls joined in a folkloric dance. McDonald’s revamped its fast-food franchises, and renovated signs segregating their counters and seating areas by sex.
At literary salons, writers recounted stories of people jailed for blaspheming. Some were fed watermelon to fill their bladders, they said, and then had their penises tied. In November 2015 Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet raised in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to death for voicing religious doubts. “I am Hell’s experiment on the Planet Earth,” he had written in his offending volume of poems. (After much international protest and a worldwide reading of his poems, a panel of judges upheld the verdict of apostasy but commuted the sentence to eight years in prison and eight hundred lashes.) “For the first time in my life, I’m truly afraid,” a news editor told me. The dearth of names in this review is testimony to how nervous even prominent figures have become."