BuzzFeed reports: Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince who paid more than half a billion dollars last year to purchase a 440-foot yacht after spotting it off the coast in the south of France, makes for an unlikely leader of an anti-corruption crackdown in the name of the people.
But that’s what Saudi Arabia, one of the last few remaining absolute monarchies in the world, is currently undergoing, with an extraordinary purge of top princes and officials last week. Many see the move as a naked power grab — but Saudi Arabia is also badly in need of the shake-up.
“People are so much in support of what’s happening,” said Ahmed Saadeldin, an advertising executive in Jeddah. “These corrupt individuals were in the way of the people’s aspirations. The general public are happy, to tell you the truth. If it’s anything it is a reverse coup.”
Bin Salman’s strike against his country’s elite has earned him wide plaudits, from both international investors who do business in the kingdom and have long complained about corruption, and ordinary Saudis struggling to get by amid rising prices and what they perceive as a rigged economic playing field. One thing that irks many Saudis is that royals have made a racket of buying land on the cheap and sitting on it, pushing up housing prices and making homeownership an increasingly unattainable goal for the middle class.
The crackdown shows no signs of ending. On Thursday, the Saudi investigation reportedly expanded to the United Arab Emirates, with authorities seeking bank account info on 19 Saudis implicated in holding illicit assets and embezzling government funds. [Continue reading…]
Simon Henderson writes that bin Salman: has been quietly orchestrating the appointments of a range of young princes in their late twenties or thirties to positions of power. They will likely be crucial to the success of his remodeling of the kingdom and could emerge as arbiters of power for decades to come. They are all either the grandsons or great grandsons of the kingdom’s founder, Ibn Saud, who died in 1953. Mohammed bin Salman is entirely prudent in promoting these younger cousins, appealing to their ambition and vanity, and securing their loyalty. It is a good way of internalizing any competition between family lines — Ibn Saud had more than 40 sons, and the number of grandsons is in the hundreds. Mohammed bin Salman’s actions have so far forestalled a collective family revolt, proving once again the utility of that old adage: divide and conquer.
As in all monarchies, bloodline is often more important than competence for prospective leaders in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed bin Salman probably wants to promote talent — but will also be paying attention to how to deflect resentment or the hint of opposition. Promoting sons can take some of the pain out of fathers being sidelined.
The House of Saud has witnessed difficult transitions before. What’s different this time is that age is no longer equivalent to seniority and instead may have become a handicap. Comparative youth necessarily means a relative lack of experience but that is a risk which Mohammed bin Salman seems to have decided he can handle. [Continue reading…]