1953:

The article describes King Saud as “more progressive and international-minded than his autocratic father.

1957:

This piece does not refer to Saudi Arabia specifically, but it is an incredible headline nevertheless.

1960:

“King Saud has increasingly assumed the role of liberal champion of constitutional reform.”

Note: The Saudi constitution was adopted by royal decree in 1992.

1962:

“The Oil Genie and the Sheikh” offers a tour of Gulf palaces that marvels at their “gilded furniture of impressive ugliness.” Here is also a page from the photo spread of Oman and Bahrain with the caption “'heaven on earth'—air conditioned palaces, Cadillacs, girls.”

      

1963:

During the so-called “Arab Cold War” the United States supported the Saudi royal family as a bulwark against Nasserism. This piece celebrates Crown Prince Faisal’s “burst of social reform and economic development.”

1963:

“With his older brother no longer looking over his shoulder . . .”

1964:

“He is a man who has gained nearly absolute power without really wanting it.”

1964:

In this article, King Faisal is described as “ascetic, with only one wife, who lives on grilled meat and boiled vegetables and makes a fetish of moderation.”

1975:

An obituary reads, “Faisal, Rich and Powerful, Led Saudis Into 20th Century.“

1975:

Faisal’s successor, King Khalid, was a “moderating force.”

      

1975:

Two more reform-themed headlines from 1975, including one on “planting the seeds of a parliamentary system in the kingdom.”

1979:

An epic lede here from 1979: “His black Trans-Am sports car creeps along the Corniche Road on the edge of the Red Sea. To the left, skyscrapers jab into the humid air, a sight made more impressive by the desolation surrounding the ancient city of Jidda.”

 

1982:

“King Fahd has been depicted as the leading figure in a progressive, modernizing faction within the tradition-minded monarchy.”

 

1991-1992:

Operation Desert Storm and the mobilization of US troops to the kingdom placed Saudi reform under more of a spotlight, as made clear in these headlines featuring “major political changes,” “modernizers,” “governmental reform,” “and other political reforms.”

1992:

Despite prior reports on the ebb and flow of the fortunes of reformers, the appearance of continuity remained crucial: “In making the changes, King Fahd is following previous generations of Saudi rulers who had also moved toward modernization since King Abdelaziz united a vast territory populated by feuding tribal leaders into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 60 years ago.”

      

1996:

Thomas Friedman makes his first appearance, lauding King Fahd as a “bulldozer” in tackling political problems on behalf of the United States.

 

2000:

“Saudi Heir Urges Reform, and Turn From US”

      

2002:

Shortly after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Friedman models “2 futures” for Saudi Arabia, concluding “Which school would I bet on? Ask me in five years.”

      

2003:

Luckily, we would not have to wait that long. On eve of US invasion of Iraq, Friedman makes the case that war “could drive reform in the Arab/Muslim world.”

      

2005:

“For Abdullah, who has fashioned himself as a reformer in a land where conforming to tradition is a virtue, the challenge now is to make good on longstanding promises for change.”

      

2007:

Employing its narrative of reform as a product of fits and starts, this article reports on “stalled” reforms before listing the ways in which “some change has occurred.”

      

2007:

Another piece about a land of contradictions: “The (Not So) Eagerly Modern Saudi.”

       

2007:

“Saudi King Tries to Grow Modern Ideas in Desert”

      

2009:

Apparently, a cabinet reshuffle can sometimes be reform.

2009:

This editorial welcomes the reshuffle.

2009:

“More generally, the reform agenda has drawn momentum from King Abdullah’s personal popularity . . .”

      

2009:

Announcing that local elections have been delayed for two years, this report nonetheless lauds the king’s reformist intentions before concluding with the following quote: “You have a reform-oriented king trying to push in the direction of reform, but you have a non-reform-oriented structure that is close to impossible to change.”

      

2010:

Columnist Maureen Dowd offers her reflections from a visit to Riyadh: “Yet by the Saudi’s premodern standards, the 85 year-old King Abdullah, with a harem of wives, is a social revolutionary.”

     

 

      

2010:

While Saudi society is divided, this article claims the monarch’s sympathies lie with the reformers.

      

2011:

During the height of the Arab uprisings: "In Saudi Arabia, Royal Funds Buy Peace for now."

      

2012:

“King Faisal, in a rush to modernize his realm, created Saudi state television in the 1960s, and that bold step is widely believed to have led to his assassination.”

      

2012:

The Twitter revolution reaches Saudi shores: “Twitter for us is like a parliament, but not the kind of parliament that exists in this region.”

      

2013:

Reporting from the front lines of the Arab uprisings in Dubai, Friedman calls Saudi King Abdullah “a real progressive” and offers more “data” on the Twitter revolution.

      

2015:

King Abdullah’s obituary describes him as “a cautious reformer amid great changes in the Middle East.”

2015:

Friedman on what messes him up in reporting on Saudi Arabia.

2016: 

Saudi Arabia’s economic revolution offers “tantalizing hints at even broader reforms.”

 

2017:

Saudi reforms include smart robots.

      

2017:

From earlier this month, this Friedman piece includes such gems as “he is much more McKinsey than Wahhabi — much more a numbers cruncher than a Quran thumper.”

      

2017:

And finally, the one that inspired it all, a hagiographic ode to royal reform that represents seven decades of strategic policy objectives barely concealed beneath recycled cultural tropes.