Bin­ladin ar­rest brings end to Saudi al­liance

Purge en­gulfs princes, busi­ness­men, of­fi­cials

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Aya Ba­trawy

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — Among those caught in the un­prece­dented ar­rests this week of top princes, wealthy busi­ness­men and se­nior of­fi­cials was the scion of one of Saudi Ara­bia’s most rec­og­niz­able fam­i­lies: Bakr Bin­ladin, the chair­man of the kingdom’s pre-em­i­nent con­trac­tor — and Osama bin Laden’s half-brother.

It was a stun­ning end to a decades-old al­liance be­tween the rul­ing Al Saud and Bin­ladin fam­i­lies that saw the Saudi Bin­ladin Group se­cure a near-mo­nop­oly on mega-ex­pan­sion projects in Is­lam’s two holi­est sites, Mecca and Me­d­ina, through­out the reigns of suc­ces­sive Saudi mon­archs.

The gov­ern­ment says 201 peo­ple have been taken into cus­tody in the purge, which comes amid an anti-cor­rup­tion probe it says un­cov­ered at least $100 bil­lion in graft and em­bez­zle­ment.

Saudi crit­ics and ex­perts have called the ar­rests a bold and risky move by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man aimed at con­sol­i­dat­ing power as he side­lines po­ten­tial ri­vals, si­lences crit­ics and dis­man­tles al­liances built with other branches of the royal fam­ily.

The 32-year-old crown prince, who is the son of King Sal­man and is pop­u­larly known by his ini­tials MBS, is lead­ing the anti-cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He’s also the force be­hind the so-called Vi­sion 2030 plan, a blueprint for how to re­struc­ture the coun­try and wean it from its de­pen­dence on oil rev­enue.

The ar­rests of Bin­ladin and the oth­ers not only sig­nal the end of old al­liances, but also speak to the larger de­mands be­ing made on the busi­ness com­mu­nity to pay into the crown prince’s eco­nomic vi­sion in an era of lower oil prices.

“This is the be­gin­ning of the rise of eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism,” said Ay­ham Kamel, head of the Mid­dle East and North Africa di­vi­sion of the Eura­sia Group.

A cen­ter­piece of that plan is NEOM, a $500 bil­lion project that prom­ises to be the world’s most fu­tur­is­tic and tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced city, which was un­veiled by the crown prince at a head­line-grab­bing global in­vest­ment con­fer­ence in Saudi Ara­bia last month.

But in­stead of re­ceiv­ing ma­jor pledges to the project by Saudi busi­ness lead­ers, MBS “got deaf­en­ing si­lence”, Kamel said.

Since the 1950s, the Bin­ladins have been the royal fam­ily’s goto con­trac­tor for some of its most sen­si­tive projects, in­clud­ing con­struc­tion of pri­vate palaces in the im­me­di­ate boon years af­ter oil was dis­cov­ered in Saudi Ara­bia.

As the royal fam­ily spent lav­ishly on trips abroad and new palaces at home, the Bin­ladins be­came their cred­i­tors, as well as con­trac­tors.

Re­li­able and dis­creet, the Bin­ladin Group would go on to build con­fi­den­tial de­fense projects in the kingdom, as well as land­mark sky­scrapers, uni­ver­si­ties, a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal, an air­port, a fi­nan­cial district and much more.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.