The royal purge in Saudi Ara­bia

The Week - - Front Page -

“In a coun­try with en­demic cor­rup­tion, go­ing af­ter fat cats” will al­ways gen­er­ate pop­u­lar sup­port, said Yaroslav Trofi­mov in The Wall Street Jour­nal. In Saudi Ara­bia, the un­der-30s who make up 70% of the desert king­dom’s pop­u­la­tion are “dis­gusted by decades of un­pun­ished graft”, and so the ar­rest this week of at least 30 prom­i­nent Saudis – in­clud­ing sev­eral bil­lion­aire princes and se­nior min­is­ters (who are now in­car­cer­ated in the five-star Ritz-carl­ton ho­tel in Riyadh) – will have shored up Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man’s young sup­port base. But this was not just about jus­tice. It was about the 32-yearold prince – the coun­try’s de facto ruler, and the des­ig­nated heir to 81-year-old King Sal­man – re­mov­ing ri­vals and con­sol­i­dat­ing his power, the bet­ter to push through his “Vi­sion 2030” for a post-petroleum coun­try.

In the two years since his fa­ther as­sumed the throne, Prince Mo­hammed (aka MBS) has made it clear that he plans to do things dif­fer­ently, said Richard Spencer in The Times. He has spo­ken of turn­ing Saudi into “a bas­tion of mod­er­ate Is­lam”, with high-tech in­dus­tries and beach clubs. To that end, MBS (who be­came Crown Prince in June by oust­ing his older cousin) has al­ready chal­lenged the or­tho­doxy of the Wah­habi cler­ics, stripped back the power of the feared re­li­gious po­lice, and promised to lift the ban on women driv­ing, said El­liott Abrams in The New York Times. But even if he is a so­cial lib­eral, he is not a po­lit­i­cal one. On the con­trary: he wants ab­so­lute power cen­tralised round him­self. Un­til now, Saudi kings have all been among the 45 sons of its founder (lead­ing to short reigns by old men) – and power has been shared be­tween the fam­ily’s var­i­ous branches. But in Mbs’s gen­er­a­tion, there are “lit­er­ally hun­dreds of el­i­gi­ble princes”. To gov­ern in the old way will be im­pos­si­ble. MBS is em­bold­ened by the strong sup­port he has from Don­ald Trump, said The Wash­ing­ton Post. The dy­namic prince is also said to have formed a close bond with Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s ad­viser and son-in-law, who re­cently paid him a per­sonal visit. Even so, his power play is risky, said Ca­rool Ker­sten on Opendemoc­racy. He has many foes and he is fight­ing on sev­eral fronts. De­ter­mined to com­bat Iran’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in the re­gion, he is ru­moured to have or­dered the res­ig­na­tion of the Le­banese PM, Saad Hariri, last week, to desta­bilise Hezbol­lah (with whom Hariri was in coali­tion). He also em­broiled Saudi in its proxy war with Iran in Ye­men. Then there is the on­go­ing row with Qatar. So far, he has man­aged to outwit his en­e­mies – but for how much longer can he keep all these balls aloft?

MBS: play­ing a risky game

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