Just What is Going on in Saudi Arabia?

By Patrick Brogan

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being accused of making a power grab in Riyadh over the weekend, but it might not be as straightforward as that.

Two dozen people were arrested on corruption charges. Nearly half of these were senior princes themselves and others included officials and businessmen. Many felt this was a Game of Thrones style seizing of power. The Royal family is essential the only democratic institution in Saudi Arabia as a royal successor has to be elected by other members of the family.

The actions of bin Salman have been reported as a crackdown on any dissent that might prevent him becoming the King when his father Salman is no longer on the throne. Other factors have to be considered, especially economic ones. It appears to be part of a broader move to open up Saudi society with a view to bring in foreign investment and lessen its dependency on oil. Already a number of moves have been made to distance the Gulf kingdom from its ultra-conservative past.

Famously, there was the decision to allow women to drive earlier this year. Mohammed bin Salman just recently said the country was going to move away from the harsh Wahhabi brand of Islam to a more tolerant and moderate version, as it had done in the past. Such moves would be welcomed by major corporations willing to set-up operations in Saudi Arabia.

Amongst those arrested was Waleed bin Talal who was famously criticised by President Trump on Twitter. Was this part of an overture to the US President that would lead to US investment in the region? Another major factor is the disconnect ordinary Saudis feel towards the mega-rich House of Saud. A clampdown on corruption would certainly help win over younger people sick of the disparity between themselves and the lavish lifestyles of those at the ‘top’.

Another interesting development was the death of prince Mansour bin Murqin in a helicopter crash. He was the Deputy Governor of the southern Asir province that shares a border with warring Yemen. The timing of this is noteworthy at least, with other members of the Royal Family detained just a few hours before.

Any changes in Saudi Arabia will be felt on the global stage. The country is hugely influential and the home of Islam’s two most important cities. It has also been criticised for creating and funding Islamic extremism in all parts of the world. A change in this mindset would be most welcome, along with measures taken to improve the conditions for ordinary Saudi citizens.


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