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?

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Saudi Arabia’s recently deposed crown prince reportedly under house arrest

Prince Mohammed bin SalmanOne of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men, who until last week was first in line to the throne, is reportedly under house arrest. If true, this development would reveal a deep and growing division within the ruling House of Saud. Until the early hours of June 21, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, was the officially appointed successor to the Saudi ruler, King Salman. In addition to running the country’s feared security services, Prince Nayef was close to Washington, and is a trusted friend of numerous American intelligence officials. But on June 21, King Salman announced radical changes to the line of succession to the throne, stunning the Saudi establishment and international observers alike. The announcement, which came shortly after midnight, completely deposed Prince Nayef from the line of succession.

In Prince Nayef’s place, the King appointed his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, who is now the new crown prince. Prince Salman was virtually unknown until 2015, when his father became monarch. He quickly appointed him to Secretary of Defense in the oil kingdom. Since that time, Prince Salman —the world’s youngest defense minister— has been tasked with overseeing Saudi Arabia’s oil monopoly, and finding ways to diversify the country’s economy. Additionally, he has raised eyebrows at home and abroad, by promoting an aggressive foreign policy in Yemen and Syria. He is also believed to have spearheaded Riyadh’s aggressive foreign-policy maneuvers in relation to Iran and Qatar.

Since the day of the surprise announcement, Prince Nayef has virtually disappeared from public life. It subsequently emerged that he was also fired from his post as Minister of Interior, and replaced by one of his nephews. According to The New York Times, the reason for the prince’s disappearance is that he has been virtually under house arrest. Citing “four current and former American officials” and an unspecified number of “Saudis close to the royal family”, The Times said on Wednesday that Prince Nayef has been “confined to his palace” in the coastal city of Jeddah. The paper alleged that, as soon as he went to his palace in the early hours of Wednesday, the prince found that his trusted security guards had been secretly dismissed and replaced with men who are loyal to Prince Salman.

Sources in the Saudi government, who are close to the king, have dismissed The Times’ report as “baseless and false”. However, no member of Prince Nayef’s inner circle has come forward to dismiss the allegations about his house arrest. If true, the reports would suggest that there is a deep split inside the Saudi royal family and that Prince Nayef, along with members of his immediate family, are being kept in isolation from their supporters.

Meanwhile, there have been no comments from Western governments on Prince Nayef’s surprise dismissal. Regular intelNews readers will recall a leaked German intelligence report from 2015, in which Prince Salman —who is now first in line to the throne— was described as spearheading an “impulsive policy of intervention”. The report, authored by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, warned that Prince Salman’s radical maneuvers were jeopardizing the Kingdom’s relationship with important regional allies and with Washington. Things have changed since then, however, with the ascent of Donald Trump to the White House. The new American president and his senior aides have repeatedly expressed strong support for King Salman and his son.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 June 2017 | Permalink

German spy agency says Saudi Arabia is ‘source of regional instability’

Prince Mohammed bin SalmanA report by Germany’s primary intelligence agency warns that internal power struggles and broader geopolitical changes are turning the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a major source of regional instability. The report was produced by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, and is entitled: “Saudi Arabia: A Sunni Regional Power Torn Between a Paradigm Shift in Foreign Policy and Domestic Power Consolidation”. It explains the energy-rich Kingdom’s new forceful approach to regional problems as an outcome of both domestic and external factors.

On the domestic scene, the BND report connects the changes in Saudi Arabia’s regional stance with an unfolding power-struggle between two factions inside the country’s royal family. On the one side is the ‘traditionalist’ faction led by King Salman, who was enthroned in January of this year following the death of his predecessor, King Abdullah. This faction is being challenged by a group of royal family members led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who currently serves as the country’s minister of defense. According to the BND report, Prince Mohammed, who is second-in-line to the throne, is trying to solidify his position in the royal succession by promoting a more radical and militarized foreign policy. This, says the BND, can be seen in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military intervention in Yemen, as well as in its highly interventionist policy in support of anti-government rebels in Syria.

The German intelligence report suggests that Prince Mohammed’s policies are also the result of a widespread view among some senior members of the Saudi royal family that the United States is gradually disengaging from the Middle East, and that the country is not any more a strong guarantor of Saudi Arabia’s security. As a result, the Kingdom is “prepared to take unprecedented risks” in the military, diplomatic and financial domains in order to project itself as a strong regional actor and “avoid falling behind in regional affairs” in its struggle for dominance against its neighboring rival, Iran.

But this new policy, says the BND, comes with considerable financial demands, which are challenging the limits of Saudi Arabia’s financial might. This year alone, notes the German report, the Kingdom is expected to announce a budget deficit that will be in the neighborhood of $120 billion. This is angering many senior members of the royal family who are opposed to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive regional stance. These ‘traditionalists’ have repeatedly criticized the prince’s “impulsive policy of intervention”, which they claim is jeopardizing the Kingdom’s relationship with important regional allies, as well as with Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 4 October 2015 | Permalink