THE MIDDLE EAST
BY: Jeff Koopersmith, Editor Emeritus
Saudi Crown Prince’s Mass Purge Upends a Long Standing System
WASHINGTON DC – MONDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2017: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, ordered a midnight blitz of arrests ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over this past weekend has netted more than a dozen of Saudi Arabia’s most influential men including 11 of his royal cousins.
The dramatic move was presented as a “crackdown on corruption”.
The arrested included the kingdom’s richest investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the most powerful remaining rival to the Crown Prince’s power: and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah.
Prince Mutaib had already been removed from his post as chief of a major security service.
All members of the royal family are barred from leaving the country as well, which might have been quite the adventure since so many Saudi Royals have large private jet airplanes and helicopters capable of whisking them away with only several minutes warning. These aircraft must have been seized at the same time as the corrupted powerful were placed under arrest.
King Salman’s favored son and key adviser, now appears to have established control over all three Saudi security services — the military, internal security services and national guard.
The Saudi arrests of 11 Princes, Included Billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal.
President Trump phoned the Saudi King saying he supports this modernization Drive
The Crown Prince has frightened businessmen and royals across the kingdom by arresting Alwaleed bin Talal, who is an undisputed giant of Saudi finance. Prince Mohammed has also already ordered enough high-profile arrests of intellectuals and clerics to frighten the rest of them.
“It is the coup de grâce of the old system,” said Chas W. Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador. “(It is) Gone. All power has now been concentrated in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman.”
At age 32 Crown Prince Mohammed has some, but not as much as might be expected experience in high value moves such as these.
King Salman, now 81, came to the throne in 2015, and the Crown Prince is known to have little patience for the snail’s pace of change and the elimination of corruption in Saudi. And, Crown Prince Salman was also responsible for humiliating Qatar over the past several months.
Crown Prince Salman has taken on a business elite used to state subsidies, reckless extravagance, and wastefulness with radical plans to remake the Saudi economy, lessen dependence on oil and thus gain more reliance on foreign investment. He has also moved against conservatives in the religious with some steps to loosen strict moral codes, including the longstanding ban on women driving.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s haste will cost him because of its lack of transparency and courtroom due process – as part of his anti corruption crackdown, that some say is sure to intimidate the same private investors he hopes to attract to a long planned stock offering of Aramco – a huge oil company in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Sources tell me this stock offering has been, at least, postponed and may not occur, at least for a longer term than expected..
Saudi Arabian businessmen and royals secretly moved assets out of the country even before these arrests. This may have served to further anger Crown Prince Mohammed into taking tougher steps or was allowed to make family life easier either with heads of family home
Some worry about the Prince’s move against the royals and wealthy businesspeople. However because the purge seems limited to only Saudi businessmen and royals, it might serve to continue to build confidence in offshore investors and attract foreign investment despite this criticism by some academics.
Unlike President Trump, the Saudi news media is welcoming the arrests and the follow-up cleaning by the Crown Prince. Populist Saudis, for some understandable reasons, resent what seemed to them to be the self-enrichment by royals and their confederacies.
FILMDOM WILL LOVE CROWN PRINCE MOHAMMED
Look for Hollywood and New York to begin reading scripts surrounding the Saudi Crown Prince and Arab wealth generally to bring a new and very profitable niche market to cable television and film which will be always starving for unique and new content because of it hundreds of producers hoping for viral idea.
The Crown Prince is sure to be the Good against the Bad, with much intrigue in any Hollywood pitch. Most every Saudi urbanite has heard the tales of past desert princes thieving vast sums of money planned to be used for public-beneficial projects, and I have written for decades that the assault on Western Democracies are not only based on Islam, but also, with far more weight, come from deep hatreds born from watching the Arabian elite and their sometimes self serving manner which causes untold lament among the less fortunate of many desert and Islamic nations run by royals or other high-placed fire-starters who enrage the lower and even middle classes. Prof. Bernie Haykel of Princeton calls Mohammed’s moves “a frontal assault on some members of the royal family and the impunity with which they have operated in the past,”
President Trump showed at least some support for the arrests, phoning King Salman quickly after the Crown Prince’s surprise moves. White House administration, and press aides have not yet mentioned these arrests and reported only that President Trump praised Crown Prince Mohammed for “other moves”.
Jared Kushner, returned just days ago from the latest in at least three high-level Trump family administration visits to Saudi Arabia this year however we have seen no reporting of Mr. Kushner’s reaction to the Crown Prince’s actions.
As is normal in the Kingdom, no Saudi authority or spokesman has, thus far, identified all those arrested nor with what charges pend against them.
Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah was removed from his post as chief of the major security services over this weekend just hours before the arrests. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported only that a large number of arrests, including as many as 13 princes, had been ordered by an “Anti Corruption Committee” [only hours old] complete with a royal decree allowing this committee the control to detain individuals and seize assets without trial, process or public disclosure.
Former security chief Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, appeared to have also been branded on Sunday in a well produced social media campaign as The new face of “Public Corruption” inasmuch as Prince Mohammed naturally chose targets with depraved reputations and others who are known rivals to present power in the Kingdom. Prince Mutaib, one of those included in the purge, was a power broker who once ran the royal court under King Abdullah, and who is also the owner of one of the largest private media companies in the region – no surprise in matters such as these.
Yet Crown Prince Mohammed himself also clipped — Adel Fakeih — who was a driving force behind Prince Mohammed’s program of economic reform. This seems almost another bit of Saudi “Trumpery” because it leaves the press and other analysts wondering about what motivated the Crown Prince to bring Fakeih to heel at all, including me.
Saudi royal, Prince Mansour bin Muqrin,also, was killed this weekend in a (non-related?) helicopter crash flying him, the deputy governor of Asir Province, which borders Yemen. Other officials were killed in this crash which occurred just after the “purge”. The cause has not been told as yet.
Most important for the Crown Prince this weekend was gaining very close control over the three main security services, which makeup Saudi Arabia’s stringent power on the ground.
This past June, the King removed his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, from his position as crown prince and his powerful role of interior minister in charge of the internal security forces, secret police and counterterrorism operations. The king also placed his demoted and disparaged nephew under house arrest as rumors spread that bin Nayef had become addicted to painkillers and other drugs. America is not the only nation with an Opioid criss.
Most interesting is the arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who is well known for his mega-investments in brand-name Western companies including Twitter, News Corporation, Apple and the Four Seasons. Prince Alwaleed has supported the crown prince’s plans to attract outside investors to Saudi Arabia. However, when 34 senior family members met last week as — The Allegiance Council — it approved Prince Mohammed’s elevation to crown prince. The problem? One of only three dissents was from Prince Alwaleed’s branch of the family, the Talal’s, according to the trusted sources.
Thus far no trial or set prison term has been announced regarding the Royals selected by these arrests.
Some Saudi Arabia experts have said that over time we should know whether this is a move toward despotism or simply a method used prior in the Saudi to eliminate criticism and/or challenges to others, Crown Prince, or King.
I read that Michael Stephens, who studies Saudi Arabia at the Royal United Services Institute in London, recalled that bloody purges by other leaders in the region have sometimes been used to eliminate rivals. What Crown Prince Mohammed is doing, Mr. Stephens said, “is a more ‘genteel’ way of making sure there are no challenges to his power.”
Whether the arrests and other actions signal a potential slide into despotism or “whether we will look back and say Mohammed bin Salman is the one guy who saw the wall coming and managed to hurdle it, added Stephens.
Yes, perhaps we will.