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Is the Saudi crown prince a reformist or power-hungry?
7 November 2017
The arrests in Saudi Arabia have spurred days of speculation and analysis. There was the element of surprise, the detentions took place on Saturday night and without warning.
The element of power – most of those arrested are men of influence. And an element of uncertainty, is this about purging corruption or consolidating power?
The man behind it all: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been a figure of controversy for months now.
He is regarded as a progressive leader, touting social and economic reforms.
But critics say MBS, as he’s known, is also power-hungry. Over the course of two years, he went from being third in line to the throne, to first.
But what risks is the Crown Prince running? And can he meet the many challenges he faces both at home and in the region?
Presenter: Jane Dutton
Joseph Kechichian, Senior Fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies
Andreas Krieg, Assistant Professor at the Defense Studies Department at King’s College London
Nicholas Noe, Editor in Chief of MideastWire dot com
By Joe Gill in Britain:
The night of the long knives in Riyadh
Wednesday 8th November 2017
JOE GILL writes on the Saudi crown prince’s bid to remove his rivals and the West’s interest in the kingdom’s game of thrones
THE Gulf region has seen nothing like it for decades. Saudi Arabia, which avoided the fate of other Arab regimes in the 2011 uprisings, and threw its money and support behind the overthrow of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad but failed to topple him, is in lockdown.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has dressed up his purge of rivals as an anti-corruption drive but very few believe this.
He’s getting rid of all his rivals for the throne before he replaces his ailing father, King Salman. And he’s doing it with the confidence that the US president is fully behind him.
Donald Trump also backed his blockade of Gulf rival Qatar in June, but has failed to remove the ruling al-Thani family.
Qatar, while also backing Sunni militancy across the region, favoured the Muslim Brotherhood in Eqypt and Hamas in Gaza.
Saudi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) favour military strongmen such as Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and see the Brotherhood as a danger to their rule.
Mohammed bin Salman became defence minister and deputy crown prince in 2015 and promptly started a war in Yemen.
Two and a half years later the poor southern neighbour is devastated but the Houthi government in Yemen’s capital Sanaa shows no sign of giving up.
Saudi’s allies in the south are disunited, with al-Qaida growing in power thanks to its alliance with the anti-Houthi forces supported by Saudi and UAE.
Which brings us to Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s power grab. The 32-year-old heir apparent became crown prince in June but has yet to achieve anything from all the mad and crazy schemes he has announced.
These include a $500 billion city called Neom fronted by a robot and promised to be a kind of Blade Runner dystopia of rampant AI capitalism.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and Israel point man, was hanging out with Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month and reportedly stayed up half the night strategising with him till 4am.
Clearly this purge — which has reportedly seen two princes killed, one in a plane crash — is approved by Trump.
In return for this support Trump is stating openly that he wants the floating of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest state oil firm, on the New York Stock Exchange.
This could mean Britain will be sidelined in this potential bonanza. But, as some observers have stated, this coup has hit pro-Western Saudi billionaires like Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
This does not seem like an orderly move toward greater neoliberalism. Rather, it’s a naked power grab and seizure of rivals’ assets and power bases.
History is replete with rogue rulers who seek to consolidate power by purging their opponents.
But Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s purge is extraordinary for the way it has torn up the traditions of the 80-year-old kingdom which previously rotated power among the different princes and their children, while giving each a ministry to maintain power and milk for billions.
The Saudi case is also dangerous for the regime’s Western backers since the stakes are so high. Britain has backed Saudi rule since the beginning while the US guarantees it militarily while gaining access to Saudi oil.
Under Trump, this has become an alliance of US crony capitalism with its Saudi counterpart … Their joint plan, if it can be called that, is to challenge Iran and Hezbollah across the region, starting in Lebanon.
The Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, who is Saudi by passport with family money made in the kingdom, has been brought down because he was unable to challenge Hezbollah as commanded by his Saudi bosses.
Extraordinarily, he resigned while visiting Riyadh, with some sources saying he was forced. Lebanon’s government has not accepted his resignation and Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has said it was imposed on Hariri. “It was not his intention, not his wish and not his decision” to quit, Nasrallah said in a televised address.
There is a historical comparison to be drawn with the cold war here. The wars that began with the US invasion of Iraq were supposed to eliminate all the threats to Israel in the region and to contain and overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.
It hasn’t quite worked out. Iran has outplayed Saudi and the US in Syria and Iraq, leaving it, like the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, as a dominant power in its own backyard.
As a Gulf dissident put it to me recently, the entire British-backed Sykes-Picot agreement and the regimes it established after World War I are coming apart.
“Change here and change there are all connected,” he said. “The house of Saud replaced the Ottomans almost a century ago in the Arabian peninsula, but like the Ottomans, their days could well be numbered.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has expanded his purge of leading Saudi business and political figures, including some of the 20,000 princes. On Wednesday, the authorities carried out further arrests, amounting to 500 over the last few days, and froze more than 1,700 bank accounts: here.
Saudi Arabia’s shutdown of all of Yemen’s seaports, airports and border crossings announced on Monday threatens to unleash famine of world historic proportions, leading to the deaths of millions, the United Nations and major aid groups have warned: here.
Friday 10th November 2017
THE SAUDI monarchy’s crackdown on opponents of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deepened yesterday, with 201 people now under arrest.
Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb said 208 people had been called in for questioning since Saturday evening, and that seven people were released without charge, leaving 201 people still in custody.
Among those whose arrest the 32-year-old crown prince ordered on Saturday, alleging corruption, are 11 of his princely cousins.
Mr Mojeb claimed yesterday that the sums involved total more than $100 billion (£75bn) over several decades. He confirmed that bank accounts — reportedly 1,700 — had been frozen.
Reuters alleged on Wednesday that the frozen accounts included that of former crown prince and interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef, who was removed in favour of King Salman’s son in June.
The crackdown coincided with Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri fleeing to Riyadh to announce his resignation from his party’s unity government with Hezbollah — an ally of Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran.
Yesterday, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc warned Saudi Arabia to stay out of Lebanon’s affairs, saying that Mr Hariri’s flight had “raised many questions.”
Last Saturday, Yemen’s Republican Guard claimed to have hit Riyadh airport with an indigenously made Volcano H-2 rocket.
French President Emmanuel Macron, on a state visit to the neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday, said he would fly on to Riyadh to meet Mohammed bin Salman.
Mr Macron, whose country is the UAE’s main supplier of arms for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, repeated unproven Saudi claims that the missile was Iranian-made.
The United Nations warned again yesterday that the Saudi blockade of all Yemen’s ports could condemn millions of people to “starvation and death.”
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