Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is going ahead with his so-called anti-corruption plan and royal purge under the supervision of foreign troops, informed sources in Riyadh said.
Bin Salman’s arrest of hundreds of potential rivals, including 11 royal princes and many influential Saudi businessmen, is underway in Saudi Arabia under the banner of an anti-corruption drive, but it is still not clear when the detainees would be able to appear in a royal court, the sources told Ray al-Youm, a key news website monitoring developments in the Arab world, on Tuesday.
The princes were arrested not by Saudi security forces but by foreign troops, family members and relatives of the arrested princes confirmed, according to the sources.
The Saudi regime has denied this despite complaints from the princes’ family members.
Muhammad bin Salman, known as MbS, has amassed more power in the last two years than any member of the House of Saud, including its kings. The young prince, who before his father came to power held no position of significance, is now the heir to the throne, minister of defense, chairman of the newly launched “anti-corruption” committee, and, by royal decree, the man in charge of Saudi Arabia’s primary source of wealth, Saudi Aramco.
The concentration of power in the hands of a man who was a junior prince is without precedent in the history of the House of Saud.
The House of Saud, which has governed Saudi Arabia as its personal fiefdom since the Kingdom’s creation in 1932, has long depended on consensus and a somewhat equitable distribution of the country’s wealth—which is regarded as the property of the House of Saud not that of the people of Saudi Arabia—to maintain relatively peaceful relations within the family. For years, there was so much money washing around that it was in no one’s interest to not play by the unwritten rules that govern the dynamics of what is the world’s wealthiest extended family.
MbS has turned the notion of rule by consensus on its head. The prince has rapidly consolidated power in the Kingdom and as the recent purge demonstrates, is intent on destroying any and all rivals before they have time to act against him.
While dozens of leading businessmen and princes have been arrested, two men stood out in terms of their potential to threaten Muhammad bin Salman’s ascension to the throne: Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, who died in a helicopter crash near Yemen this week, and Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who has been removed as head of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard.
The late Prince Mansour bin Muqrin was viewed by many within the House of Saud as a level-headed reform minded young prince who was already beginning to demonstrate some skill in his position as deputy governor for Saudi Arabia’s increasingly restive southern province of ‘Asir.
If an adversarial authoritarian regime conducted such a purge and justified it in the same way, the near-unanimous response from the West would be criticism and ridicule, and that response would be appropriate. When MBS and his father do it, they are embraced by the US and their justification is taken at face value by far too many news outlets.