Friday, November 10, 2017
Royal flush: on the Saudi Crown Prince's surprise crackdown
Ever since he was named the defence minister of Saudi Arabia in 2015, Mohammed bin Salman has had little patience for the way the kingdom is being ruled. In June, two and a half years into the reign of his father King Salman, he replaced Mohammed bin Nayef as Crown Prince. In recent weeks, he had taken on the Salafi religious establishment. On Sunday, he sprang another surprise by ordering the arrest of senior government ministers, officials and 11 Princes, including the billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal, and the powerful chief of the National Guard, Mutaib bin Abdullah. The immediate reason for the arrests is not known. The palace version is that they were carried out as part of a new campaign against corruption that is spearheaded by Prince Mohammed. But the recent crackdowns suggest that Prince Mohammed is consolidating his power. He first had Prince Nayef removed from his path to the throne as Crown Prince. As one of the richest among Saudi royals, Prince Alwaleed is known for his cosy ties with Western governments and less conservative views. Prince Mutaib, a favourite son of the late King Abdullah, is an influential figure within the palace. By arresting both, Prince Mohammed has potentially neutralised the money and power centres that could pose challenges to him in the future.
With the latest arrests, at just 32 years of age Prince Mohammed appears to have established himself as the most powerful Saudi Crown Prince in decades. He is practically in charge of key policy decisions and has taken control of all branches of the Saudi security services — the military, internal security and the National Guard. He clearly has the King’s ear. Still, Prince Mohammed is playing a risky game. In a short span of time, he has opened multiple fronts in the still-unfolding internal power struggle. In Saudi Arabia, where the rulers traditionally distribute power among the different branches of the royal family as a balancing tactic and get their decisions approved by the ulema for legitimacy, Prince Mohammed’s moves are upending tradition. By concentrating power in his own hands and turning against other Princes as well as some clerics, he has upset the balance in the system. Quick consolidation of power could perhaps allow him to reshape the governance model. The anti-corruption campaign, which sounds much like that led by Chinese President Xi Jinping, will have popular support, which he could use to continue to target his rivals. But Prince Mohammed’s track record so far is devoid of any major achievement. His ambitious plan to reform the economy has been a non-starter. His foreign policy moves also backfired with the Yemen war spinning further out of control and the Syrian civil war turning in favour of President Bashar al-Assad, who is seen as an adversary by Riyadh. If he continues to make mistakes the game could go awry, triggering an open power struggle within the House of Saud. With the Riyadh-Tehran rivalry in West Asia hotting up again, these developments are also bound to have repercussions beyond Saudi Arabia.
Posted by Dr.Kumar at 3:29 AM