Analysis: Dozens of royals arrested in weekend raids throughout Saudi Arabia

King Salman with Crown Prince MohammedDozens of Saudi senior figures, some of them among the world’s wealthiest people, have been fired or arrested, as the king and his son appeared to be removing their last remaining critics from the ranks of the security services. The unprecedented arrests took place without warning less than two hours after state-run media announced the creation of a new “supreme committee to combat corruption”. A royal decree issued on the same day named the head of the committee as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s 32-year-old son, who is first in line to the throne.

By Saturday night, nearly 50 senior officials, including at least 11 princes, had reportedly been fired or arrested. The substantial list features four current and at least 20 former ministers, most of them members of the Saudi royal family. Reports from Riyadh said that among those arrested were Saleh Abdullah Kamel, chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks, Arab media baron Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a senior member of the Saudi royal family and one of the world’s wealthiest people. Prince Alwaleed is a major investor in technology companies such as Twitter and Apple, and is seen as a high-profile social reformer in the kingdom.

More importantly, Saturday saw the firing of Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah from the post of Minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Forces. He was replaced by Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, who until last week served as one of Prince Mutaib’s subordinates. The royal palace offered no precise explanation for the removal of Prince Mutaib and the three other government ministers. A statement released to the media said that the new effort against corruption was prompted by “the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds”. But there was no direct mention of Prince Mutaib in the statement, and no charges of corruption against him were made public. It is possible that the prince’s firing may not be directly related to the anticorruption drive.

However, few Saudi observers will believe that a genuine anticorruption crusade was behind last weekend’s arrests of senior officials. In a country were nepotism and corruption are not simply endemic, but serve as the driving engine of the economy, virtually nobody believes that the system can be reformed from within. Moreover, it cannot possibly be reformed by the royal family, which is the most prolific source of corruption in the oil-rich kingdom. So what exactly is going on?

Saturday’s developments are most likely part of a broader effort by King Salman to remove from power all major critics of his decision last June to announce radical changes to the line of succession to the throne. At that time, the King named his favorite son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as his successor. In doing so, the king completely removed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch King Abdulaziz, from the line of succession. The prince was also removed from his post as Minister of Interior and placed under house arrest. Earlier, King Salman had given his son the post of Minister of Defense, thus placing him over the kingdom’s most powerful security forces. Thus, by removing Prince Mohammed from the Ministry of Interior, and replacing him with a prince loyal to the palace, he effectively brought kingdom’s second most powerful security force under his control.

That left the National Guard, which until Saturday was headed by Prince Mutaib, third and favorite son of the late King Abdullah. Until Crown Prince Mohammed entered the picture in 2015, Prince Mutaib was widely seen as a leading contender for the throne. Although not as powerful as the ministries of Defense or Interior, the National Guard is a potent security force that consists of tribally-segregated units. Prince Mutaib had inherited his position as head of the National Guard from his father, King Abdullah, who led the force for three decades. As can be expected, Prince Mutaib was not a supporter of King Salman’s decision to remove him from the line to the throne. He was especially critical of efforts by King Salman to remove all remaining loyalists of the previous king from the ranks of the security services. Now Prince Mutaib himself, the last member of King Abdullan’s family line to remain in a powerful position in government, has been removed, and is almost certainly under house arrest.

This development means that Crown Prince Mohammed controls all three of the kingdom’s security institutions, namely the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, and —after Saturday night— the National Guard Forces. Additionally, the two most formidable former contenders to the throne, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, have been removed from power and are effectively under house arrest. The coast is now clear for what is expected to be a smooth transition of power from King Salman to his son. Still, these are uncertain times in the Middle East, and there is no guarantee that last weekend’s arrests will reduce political tensions in the kingdom. The royal family remains deeply divided, and it remains to be seen whether King Salman and his supporters will manage to achieve their goal of complete supremacy in Riyadh.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 November 2017 | Permalink

One Response to Analysis: Dozens of royals arrested in weekend raids throughout Saudi Arabia

  1. Bill Banks says:

    THIS gets no comment?!

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