The royal purge in Saudi Arabia
“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?