Saudis be­gin crack­down on op­po­nents of new crown prince

Houston Chronicle - - WORLD - By Ben Hub­bard

BEIRUT — Saudi Ara­bia has be­gun a wide-rang­ing crack­down against per­ceived op­po­nents of the poli­cies of the king­dom’s new crown prince, Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

Over the last week, 16 peo­ple were held, their friends, rel­a­tives and as­so­ciates said in in­ter­views. They in­clude prom­i­nent Is­lamic cler­ics, aca­demics, a poet, an econ­o­mist, a jour­nal­ist, the head of a youth or­ga­ni­za­tion, at least two women and one prince, a son of a for­mer king.

Some of them were taken from their homes in unan­nounced raids by se­cu­rity forces, and their com­put­ers, cell­phones and per­sonal pa­pers were seized, the friends and rel­a­tives said.

Those ar­rested have been held in­com­mu­ni­cado, and it is not clear if they have been for­mally charged with crimes. Saudi Ara­bia has not pub­licly re­leased any ev­i­dence it might have against them.

Saudi ac­tivists have cir­cu­lated lists of 30 or more peo­ple they say have been de­tained, but the scale and goals of the crack­down re­main un­clear.

“It is ab­surd,” said Ja­mal Khashoggi, a vet­eran Saudi jour­nal­ist who has ad­vised the Saudi gov­ern­ment and is now stay­ing in the United States. He dis­missed the idea pro­moted by gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers on so­cial me­dia that the de­tained in­di­vid­u­als were plot­ting against the coun­try.

“There were no con­spir­a­cies,” he said. “There was noth­ing that called for such ar­rests. They are not the mem­bers of a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, and they rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent points of view.”

The crack­down comes at a crit­i­cal time for the king­dom, one of the few re­main­ing ab­so­lute monar­chies. The drop in oil prices has un­der­mined its econ­omy and the new crown prince has pro­posed sweep­ing mea­sures to re­duce the king­dom’s de­pen­dence on oil.

Crown Prince Mo­hammed, a son of King Sal­man, pushed aside his ri­val, Mo­hammed bin Nayef, ear­lier this year to be­come his fa­ther’s heir to the throne. Many Saudis and for­eign of­fi­cials have spec­u­lated that King Sal­man could ab­di­cate in fa­vor of his son; some spec­u­late that the ar­rests aimed to smooth that tran­si­tion by tamp­ing down crit­i­cism of his poli­cies.

Oth­ers have cheered the ar­rests, ac­cus­ing the de­tainees of work­ing to desta­bi­lize the king­dom.

The young prince has spear­headed the king­dom’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men as well as its boy­cott of neigh­bor­ing Qatar, which Saudi Ara­bia and three of its Arab al­lies ac­cuse of spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ism and med­dling in the af­fairs of neigh­bor­ing states.

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