The bold anti-corruption campaign by Saudi Arabia's crown prince and his aggressive foreign policy threaten to undermine his effort to promote a more moderate form of Islam, warns Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman.
The New York Times columnist, who began his career covering the Middle East and Israel, recently interviewed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely expected to take the throne in Saudi Arabia. The 32-year-old prince is leading an economic transformation in the world's largest oil exporter and the center of the Sunni Muslim faith.
Friedman said Mohammed's campaign to roll back the strict religious atmosphere that has dominated the kingdom since 1979 is the most consequential item on his reform agenda. It would allow the Saudis to overhaul their education system and help rein in a militant strain of Islam that has spread throughout the world, he said.
Saudi Arabia recently announced it will lift a long-standing ban on women driving. Under Mohammed, the kingdom can now host concerts and women and men are able to mingle more freely, Friedman said.
This marks a dramatic change from the recent past, when Saudi authorities would arrest extremists at the United States' request, but refused to tackle the "war of ideas" in Islam that fueled extremism, Friedman said.
"He's taking these guys on at the idea level. What it's doing is it's going to give permission now to everybody else to do that. That is so important. There is nothing more important than taking this on," Friedman told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday.