By Ahmad Jamal Wattoo, BA Economics and Politics
In the space of only two weeks, the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman has disrupted the balance of power in the Middle East with a series of decisions that have left observers awestruck. Dozens of Saudi royal figures, ministers and businessmen have been arrested in what has been termed as an ‘Anti-Corruption Drive’.
The list of those arrested includes the billionaire member of the Royal family, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal who has invested heavily in U.S. corporate giants like Citigroup, 21st Century Fox, Apple and Twitter. The anti-corruption committee led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman was also responsible for arresting Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the former head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and son of former King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, former Economy and Planning Minister, Adel Fakeih as well as the former head of the royal court, Khaled al-Tuwaijri among others. All in all, 11 princes, 4 ministers and dozens of ex-ministers have been detained, albeit in relative comfort, being moved to five-star hotels in the country, where it is believed that they are being interrogated by authorities.
A finding by the Financial Times last Thursday further complicates matters, as it found that it was possible for the hotel detainees to buy their freedom by surrendering 70% of their accumulated wealth to the state, making the anti-corruption drive appear less like a crackdown and more like a tactic aimed at paving the way for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assume the role of King after the retirement of his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz who is expected to step down soon due to his increasing senility.
Frank Gardner, BBC’s security correspondent avers that the political atmosphere in Saudi Arabia is heady and unpredictable. The Arab world’s richest country is undergoing seismic changes almost unprecedented in its 85-year history as a sovereign nation. The idea of dozens of familiar pillars of the establishment all being publicly and humiliatingly removed from office and detained, albeit in great comfort, would have been unthinkable just three years ago. However, the conservative, stodgy, risk-averse Saudi Arabia of old is under new management these days. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is leading the official anti-corruption purge, appears determined to take on all comers in his drive to both modernize the country and eliminate all opposition, both secular and religious.
He is popular with young Saudis but critics say he is playing for high stakes, risking a dangerous backlash in the long term.