Ross's comments set off Twitter, with many people noting that Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist monarchy with a tradition of using violence against dissenters.
The Commerce secretary, who accompanied Trump to the oil-rich kingdom over the weekend, said he found it "fascinating" that he did not see "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there." "Squawk Box" host Becky Quick pointed out that Saudi Arabia limits protests.
"In theory, that could be true, but boy there was certainly no sign of it," Ross responded. "There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood."
Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, noted that Saudi Arabia is a "police state" among the "most repressive" of free speech in the Middle East.
"Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents," Riedel said.
Here's the exchange:
Wilbur Ross: There's no question that they're liberalizing their society. And I think the other thing that was fascinating to me: There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard. Instead…
Becky Quick: But Secretary Ross, that may be not necessarily because they don't have those feelings there, but because they control people and don't allow them to come and express their feelings quite the same as we do here.
Ross: In theory, that could be true, but boy there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood. And at the end of the trip, as I was getting back on the plane, the security guards from the Saudi side who'd been helping us over the weekend all wanted to pose for a big photo op. And then they gave me two gigantic bushels of dates as a present, as a thank you for the trip that we had had. That was a pretty from the heart very genuine gesture and it really touched me.