Riyadh: Saudi Arabia has announced the arrest of 11 princes, including a prominent billionaire and dozens of current and former ministers, in what appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of the kingdom’s young crown prince — Mohammed bin Salman — the favourite son of King Salman. The announcement of the arrests was made over Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned satellite network whose broadcasts are officially approved.
The crackdown was reported immediately after a new anti-corruption commission, headed by Crown Prince Salman was established by royal decree. Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of world’s richest man, was among those arrested. He owns or has owned major stakes in News Corp, Citigroup, Twitter and many other well-known companies. The prince also controls satellite television networks watched across the Arab world.
The head of the Saudi National Guard — Prince Miteb bin Abdullah — once a leading contender to the throne, as well as the navy chief and the economy minister have been also replaced in the high-profile sackings that sent shock waves in the kingdom.
The removal of Prince Abdullah as the head of the elite internal security force consolidates Crown Prince Salman’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions.
An aviation source told AFP that security forces had grounded private jets in Jeddah, possibly to prevent any high-profile figures from leaving.
At 32, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) – the author of the sackings — is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, foreign, economic and social policies. Analysts said many of those detained were resistant to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar as well as some of his bold policy reforms, including privatising of state assets and cutting of subsidies. With the sackings, the prince is widely seen to be stamping out traces of internal dissent before a formal transfer of power from his 81-year-old father King Salman.
On the one hand, the crown prince has positioned himself as a crusader against corruption; on the other hand, he has projected himself as a liberal reformer in the ultra-conservative kingdom with a series of bold moves, including the decision allowing women to drive from next June. The purge comes less than two weeks after Prince Mohammed welcomed thousands of global business titans to Riyadh for an investment summit, showcasing his economic reform drive for a post-oil era.
Foreign diplomats predict that MBS, set to be the first millennial to occupy the Saudi throne, could well be in control of Saudi Arabia for at least half a century.
To analysts, MBS’s meteoric rise has seemed almost Shakespearean in its aggression and calculation. In June, he edged out a 58-year-old cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, to become heir to the throne. But Crown Prince Salman’s meteoric rise had stirred murmurs of discontent in the royal family that he has amassed too much personal power, and at a remarkably young age.
Meanwhile, the kingdom’s top council of clerics tweeted that anti-corruption efforts were “as important as the fight against terrorism”, essentially giving religious backing to the crackdown. “The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
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