What is happening in Saudi Arabia?

The US seems to be joined at the hip with the nation of Saudi Arabia, even as that country takes a much more vigorous and deleterious international role and spreads its poisonous brand of Islam around the world. Hence the dramatic events of Saturday, where there were mass arrests of nearly fifty people that included high-ranking businessmen, media figures, and even members of the royal family, bear some scrutiny

Ryan Grim tries to understand what is going on with all the palace intrigue.

Among 10 other princes and 38 others, the roundup netted Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, who owns significant shares in everything from Citibank to Twitter to the parent company of Fox News.

The move against Alwaleed and the other officials was couched as the result of a secret investigation carried out by a “high committee on fighting corruption.”

Whatever the official explanation, it is being read around the world as a power grab by the kingdom’s rising crown prince. “The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman,” as the New York Times put it.

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it. MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers.

Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

However those arrested are not being treated in the notoriously harsh manner that prisoners in that a country usually get.

The men are being held, as The Intercept reported, in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh. “There is no jail for royals,” a Saudi source noted.

Yes, there is. It is called a jail.

It appears that one of the ‘royal princes’ in the US (Jared Kushner) is cultivating a friendship with MBS (they are close in age and apparently share a lot of interests), who seems to be nasty piece of work.

31-year-old Prince bin Salman – the architect of Saudi’s involvement in Yemen’s devastating war known for his quick temper – has been variously described as the “most dangerous man in the world” – an epithet also awarded to Donald Trump.

What seems to be happening is an emerging alliance between the US (in the person of Kushner), Saudi Arabia (in the form of MBS), and Muhammad bin Zayed (MBZ), the 56-year-old crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the lead sheikhdom of the United Arab Emirates, with the process orchestrated by Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s Ambassador to the U.S. Watch for these names in the news.

Just what we need, an axis of evil linking three despotic and dynastic families.


  1. machintelligence says

    I’d be willing to take that bet, dollars to doughnuts. Although by 2028 doughnuts may well cost more than a dollar; so I don’t know which side of the bet I’m really on.

  2. jrkrideau says

    It looks like Mohammad bin Salman, presumably with his father’s support, is carrying out a purge and consolidating power in his branch of the family. An interesting move is that he seems to have secured the control of the National Guard.

    Mohammad bin Salman looks like a man in a hurry and it looks like he is removing some rocks in his path. He may also be trying to get rid of some rival princes who could make a bid for Crown Prince.

    I suspect that he is not in as strong a position within the Royal Family as he would like and this move is a rather risky gamble to shore up his position. I don’t remember anything this blatant in other successions but I may have missed it.

    Yemen alone has had to cause some princes to question his judgment and his “liberalization” policy is likely infuriating the more Salafist members of the family.

    Mohammad bin Salman also may have an unexpected problem. Just after the purge, Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, the deputy governor of Asir province, was killed in a flying accident. Even if he had nothing to do with the accident which seems most likely, the conspiracy theorists will be coming out of the walls.

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