Saudi Arabian royals, ministers and businessmen are being targeted in what has been described as the kingdom’s biggest anti-corruption purge in its modern history.
Dozens of top Saudis have been detained by police in a crackdown that the attorney general described as “phase one”. The list includes billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, the purge is the latest in a series of dramatic steps by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert Saudi influence internationally and amass more power for himself at home.
The campaign lengthens an already daunting list of challenges undertaken by the 32-year-old since his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015, including going to war in Yemen, cranking up Riyadh’s confrontation with arch-foe Iran and reforming the economy to lessen its reliance on oil.
Both allies and adversaries are quietly astounded that a kingdom once obsessed with stability has acquired such a taste for assertive – some would say impulsive – policy-making.
“The kingdom is at a crossroads: Its economy has flatlined with low oil prices; the war in Yemen is a quagmire; the blockade of Qatar is a failure; Iranian influence is rampant in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; and the succession is a question mark,” wrote ex-CIA official Bruce Riedel.
“It is the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half-century.”
According to Reuters, the crackdown has drawn no public opposition within the kingdom either on the street or social media. Many ordinary Saudis applauded the arrests, the latest in a string of domestic and international moves asserting the prince’s authority.
Prominent Saudi columnist Jamal Kashoggi applauded the campaign, but warned: “He is imposing very selective justice.”
“The crackdown on even the most constructive criticism – the demand for complete loyalty with a significant ‘or else’ – remains a serious challenge to the crown prince’s desire to be seen as a modern, enlightened leader,” he wrote in the Washington Post.
“The buck stops at the leader’s door. He is not above the standard he is now setting for the rest of his family, and for the country.”