Saudi Royal Purges
The recent anti-corruption arrests in Saudi Arabia have generated a lot of hype in the media and public. Opinions in the kingdom and around the world are divided; some consider it the start of a new dawn, while others see a calculated move by Prince Mohammad bin Salman to further tighten his grip on power.
The Saudi government said that 11 princes and dozens more current and former ministers, businessmen and other influential individuals were nabbed in the crackdown. Such an event is unprecedented in the country, where the line is blurred between public money and the private funds of the royal family.
Several of those arrested were close to former King Abdullah, including his three sons – Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, Prince Turki bin Abdullah and Prince Fahad bin Abdullah bin Mohammad al-Saud. Prince Miteb served as the head of the National Guard, Prince Turki as the former governor of Riyadh and Prince Fahad as the former deputy defense minister. Banker and investor Saleh Kamel was targeted along with his sons Mohiuddin and Abdullah. Kamel was often seen sitting directly to the right of former King Abdullah, a genuine “right-hand man” position that is considered the highest honour in the kingdom.
Bakr bin Laden was also among those with connections to King Abdullah who were nabbed for corruption. He is head of the Saudi Binladin Group, but is infamous for being the elder brother of slain al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is believed to have used his power to suppress the investigation into his company’s responsibility for the 2015 crane collapse in Mecca, an accident which killed more than one hundred. The broader probe may now focus on how he increased his wealth to buy influence and prestige in the kingdom.
Another in the purge who was close to King Abdullah is Adel Fakeih, the former mayor of Jeddah. He has been blamed for construction projects that choked waterways and subsequently resulted in the deadly flooding of the city in 2009. The most telling detention is that of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has stakes in world-famous companies around the world. He wielded power both in the country and abroad, and was involved in a spat on social media with Donald Trump during the American presidential campaign in 2016.
These arrests should be seen in the context of the ouster of former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in June. As a rival to Prince Salman, his downfall was a major milestone in Salman’s tightening grip on the kingdom. Now, the removal of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as the minister of the National Guard should be seen as a similarly preemptive move to prevent any future challenges to Salman’s authority.
The power politics in family monarchies are often brutal and deadly. The growth of the royal House of Saud has been creating new feuds and tensions. As Prince Salman moves to modernise the nation, it was inevitable that these internal rifts would become public. After all, one cannot run a country while at the same time paying hefty stipends to thousands of royals who contribute little or nothing to the affairs of state.