Saudis begin crackdown on opponents of new crown prince
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.