A crown prince con­sol­i­dates power

The Week (US) - - News 15 -

“Th­ese are times of ma­jor change for Saudi Ara­bia,” said (United Arab Emi­rates) in an ed­i­to­rial. In a sweep­ing anti-cor­rup­tion purge last week, the king­dom de­tained 11 princes, four gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, and dozens of for­mer of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men. This royal house­clean­ing is tak­ing place “against a back­drop of sweep­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal changes within the king­dom.” Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the 32-year-old likely suc­ces­sor to his fa­ther, King Sal­man, has spear­headed a mod­ern­iza­tion drive in re­cent months— de­vel­op­ing am­bi­tious eco­nomic plans for the king­dom’s post-oil fu­ture, lift­ing the coun­try’s ban on women driv­ers, and promis­ing a crack­down on Is­lamist ex­trem­ists. But re­forms “can only work in a trans­par­ent land­scape,” one that can’t be re­al­ized if money-hoard­ing roy­als keep milk­ing the king­dom of bil­lions of dol­lars through rigged busi­ness deals. “In the new Saudi Ara­bia, no one is above the law.” U.S. Pres­i­dent Trump is cheer­ing on this cor­rup­tion crack­down, said Arab News (Saudi Ara­bia). “King Sal­man and the crown prince,” Trump tweeted this week, “know ex­actly what they’re do­ing.”

This purge isn’t about cor­rup­tion, said David Gard­ner in the Fi­nan­cial Times (U.K.), it’s about con­sol­i­dat­ing power. The ar­rests came just hours after the es­tab­lish­ment of an anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion headed by the crown prince, who ear­lier this year pushed aside an older cousin to be­come first in line to the throne. Among those de­tained was Prince Miteb bin Ab­dul­lah, the 65-year-old for­mer head of the pow­er­ful Na­tional Guard. “The Guard, built around the king­dom’s in­tri­cate tribal net­works, is prob­a­bly the last au­ton­o­mous power cen­ter stand­ing be­tween the crown prince and the throne.” More puz­zling is the ar­rest of bil­lion­aire Prince Al­waleed bin Talal, said Ja­mal El­shayyal in Qatar-based AlJazeera .com. On pa­per, Mo­hammed and the 62-year-old ty­coon—who has in­vest­ments in Ap­ple, Cit­i­group, and other West­ern blue-chip firms—“sound like a match made in heaven.” Both want to trans­form Saudi Ara­bia into a “sec­u­lar” so­ci­ety, and both detest democ­racy. Al­waleed’s sin may have been his re­fusal to put up money to sup­port the Saudi econ­omy, which has sput­tered since oil prices dropped pre­cip­i­tously in 2014. The mes­sage from Prince Mo­hammed to the elite is “Pay up or get locked up.”

Mo­hammed is at­tempt­ing to pull off a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act, said Michael Stephens in The Daily Tele­graph (U.K.). With oil rev­enue shrink­ing, Saudi Ara­bia has to cut its gen­er­ous wel­fare state and bloated pub­lic sec­tor. But the crown prince knows he can’t ask the pub­lic—two-thirds of whom are un­der 30—to go through aus­ter­ity while tol­er­at­ing wide­spread elite cor­rup­tion. Hence the purges—“a few fat cats thrown to the fire should mean a few more months of breath­ing space.” The crown prince still has wor­ries: Con­ser­va­tive cler­ics are an­gry at the di­rec­tion he’s tak­ing the coun­try, as are dis­grun­tled roy­als. In the long term, his re­form agenda might pro­vide sta­bil­ity for Saudi Ara­bia. “Short-term, how­ever, it could be a bumpy ride.”

Prince Mo­hammed: Au­thor­i­tar­ian or re­former?

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