|Saudi counter-coup purge by Crown Prince bin Salman.|
The announcement of the arrests was made over Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned satellite network whose broadcasts are officially approved. 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.
The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anticorruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests. Al Arabiya said that the anticorruption committee has the right to investigate, arrest, ban from travel or freeze the assets of anyone it deems corrupt.
Saudi Arabia is an executive monarchy without a written constitution or independent government institution such as a Parliament or courts, so accusations of corruption are difficult to evaluate. The boundaries between the public funds and the wealth of the royal family are murky at best, and corruption, as other countries would describe it, is believed to be widespread.
The arrests came a few hours after the king replaced the minister in charge of the Saudi national guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who controlled the last of the three Saudi armed forces not yet considered to be under control of Crown Prince Mohammed. The Guard is a parallel army of around 200,000 men whose duties include combatting "terrorism".
The king named Crown Prince Mohammed the minister of defense in 2015. This year, the king removed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as head of the interior ministry, placing him under house arrest and extending the crown prince’s influence over that second armed force.
Rumors have swirled since then that King Salman and his favorite son would soon move against Prince Mutaib, commander of the third armed force and himself a former contender for the crown.
A newly-established Saudi Arabian committee with sweeping powers to combat corruption has ordered the arrest of at least 11 Saudi princes and four incumbent ministers of the Saudi government, Al-Arabiya reported, citing sources.
The committee was created Saturday by a royal decree of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, published by the Saudi official news agency on Saturday. The decree appoints the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to lead the committee, granting it broad powers to fight corruption.
The committee is exempted from “laws, regulations, instructions, orders and decision” while performing its wide range of duties, namely “identifying offenses, crimes, persons and entities” complicit in corruption, and gives it the power to impose punitive measures on those caught red-handed. Those include asset freezes, travel bans and arrests.
The committee made its first arrests hours after it was created, detaining 11 princes, four current ministers as well as “tens” of ex-ministers of the Saudi government in connection with newly opened corruption probes, Al-Arabiya reported.
The committee said it is relaunching a probe into the devastating floods that killed over 120 people in the city of Jeddah in 2009, while inflicting millions in property damage. In wake of the wide-ranging investigation, concluded in December 2014, the Saudi court found 45 people guilty, including senior officials, on charges of bribery, misuse of power and public funds, money laundering and illicit business operations.
Another high-profile case resumed by the anti-corruption committee is the investigation into the outbreak of the so-called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in Saudi Arabia in 2014, which resulted in nearly 300 deaths and the ouster of the country’s health minister.
Following the decree, several ministers were sacked by the King, including the Minister for the National Guard, Moteib Bin Abdullah, and Economy Minister Adel al-Faqieh. However, it was not immediately clear if the government reshuffle was linked to the clampdown on corruption announced earlier.
|Powerful Saudi Prince Waleed bin Talal.|
Among those fired and/or arrested are the head of National Royal Guards, Miteb Bin Abdullah, the Minister of Economy and Planning, Adel Fakeih, and Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan, the Commander of the Saudi Naval Forces.
As the local press further adds, the supreme committee chaired by Crown Prince had the billionaire arrested on “charges of money laundering." Prince al-Waleed bin Talal is perhaps best known not only for his periodic CNBC appearances, but for his recurring on and off spats with president Trump.
According to al Arabiya, among those sacked and/or arrested is Moteib Bin Abdullah, Minister of the National Guard, and Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf has been appointed as his replacement. A second Royal Order was issued to relieve Minister of Economy and Planning, Adel al-Faqieh, from his duties, and the appointment of Mohammed Al Tuwaijri as Minister of Economy and Planning.
As Saudi analysts were quick to point out, the purge by the Saudi King means that King Abdallah’s last remnants (Riyad firmer gov. & head of Nat. Guard); media moguls; SAGIA & financial policy officials have been purged.
As Bloomberg notes, changing the head of the National Guard, an institution that’s been controlled by the clan of the late King Abdullah, “is not like changing the minister of oil,” said Kamran Bokhari, a senior analyst with Geopolitical Futures and a senior fellow with the Center for Global Policy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to greater fissures within the royal family.”
Arabiya adds that King Salman also issued sacking and replacement orders for Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan, the Commander of the Naval Forces to be terminated and be retired; his replacement is Vice Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghifaili, to be promoted to the rank of admiral and be appointed as Commander of the Naval Forces.
The king also replaced Minister of Economy and Planning Adel Fakeih with Mohammad Al Tuwaijri, his deputy. Al Tuwaijri, formerly vice minister for economy and planning, had already played a key role in shaping Saudi economic and fiscal policy over the past year.
Before joining the government in May 2016 he was Middle East chief executive for HSBC. He’s served as a frequent spokesman for the government’s economic reform plan on TV and with Western journalists. The heads of the main three Saudi owned TV networks were arrested, Alwalid Bin Talal (Rotana), Walid Al Brahim (MBC), Saleh Kamel (ART).
Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, was replaced as minister of the National Guard by Prince Khaled Ayyaf, according to a royal decree carried by state-run media late Saturday. Before his ouster, Prince Miteb was one of the few remaining senior princes to have survived a series of cabinet reshuffles that promoted allies of the crown prince, who is the king’s son and heir to the throne.
King Salman has sidelined other senior members of the royal family to prevent any opposition to the crown prince. Prince Mohammed, 32, replaced his elder cousin, Muhammed bin Nayef, as crown prince in June, a maneuver that removed any doubt of how succession plans will unfold following the reign of King Salman, now 81.
While details remain scarce about this "Saturday of the long Saudi knives" - which some have suggested may be a countercoup attempt - DPA confirms the Al Arabiya report that three senior state officials were sacked.
|Saudi National Guards chief Prince Moteib.|
Furthermore, there is speculation that all private flights and VIP departures out of Saudi Arabia have been suspended temporarily, similar to what happened following the last "gentle coup" in June when Prince Mohammed (MBS), 32, replaced his elder cousin, Muhammed bin Nayef, as crown prince in June, a maneuver that removed any doubt of how succession plans will unfold following the reign of King Salman, now 81.
According to the AngryArab blog, the removal of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as head of the National Guard, means that "this is the first time that the National Guard is not in the hand of Abdullah or his son."
That put all apparatus of the military-intelligence network in the hands of Muhammad bin Salman. News that Al-Walid bin Talal has been arrested and accused of money laundering. This could be a service to Trump, who hates Al-Walid: the two fought it out on twitter during the campaign although Al-Walid tried to reconcile with Trump after his election but to no avail.
Bin Talal's arrest and the government reshuffle caps off a bizarre day for Saudi newsflow, which started with the resignation of Palestinian prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who announced he was quitting due to fears of an assassination plot, allegedly organized by Iran, followed shortly after by the Saudi defense forces intercepting a ballistic missile as it was about to strike the capital Riyadh.
A letter has been allegedly circulating among members of the Saudi royal family, with warnings that the House of Saud may be losing its grip on power. The letter containing a number of political accusations is said to be penned by an unnamed royal himself.
"We [have] got closer and closer to the fall of the state and the loss of power," online news portal Middle East Eye cited the letter on Tuesday. Signed by "a descendant of the King Abdulaziz of the House of Saud," the letter is said to have been written by the late king's grandson, who confirmed to MEE he was the author, but asked not to be named "for fear of negative repercussions."
"We appeal to all the sons of King Abdulaziz... to summon an emergency meeting with all the family to discuss the situation and do everything that is need[ed] to save the country," the four-page document reportedly says, with a senior Saudi prince calling for the current "incapable" Saudi King Salman and his son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be replaced.
The 79-year-old Saudi king in the spotlight of the backstairs intrigue has ruled the country since the death of his brother Abdullah in January. Apart from him and his son, the letter also mentions his nephew Mohammad bin Al-Nayef, calling the latter "extravagant and vain." Both younger royals hold high positions in the Saudi government, and are responsible for decisions which saw oil prices fall steeply, as well as the war in Yemen.
The letter claims the recent military decisions, including the campaigns in Yemen, Syria and Iraq are "totally miscalculated," having "weakened the trust of our people and [incited] other peoples against us."
The document, which is said to be circulating among the princes via a secure means of mobile communication, also reportedly touches upon the financial challenges faced by the Gulf kingdom. While oil revenues make the overwhelming part of the state's income, it has now found itself in a situation when oil prices have plummeted by more than half in over the year.
|Saudi King Salman & his son Crown Prince Salman.|
"We will not be able to stop the draining of money, the political adolescence, and the military risks unless we change the methods of decision making, even if that implied changing the king himself," MEE cited the letter as saying.
The modern state of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. Since his death in 1953, the country has been ruled by his sons, including the current King Salman. Over a dozen of Ibn Saud's sons are still alive, but it is said that Salman may be handing the reigns over to his son – a grandson of Ibn Saud, rather than to one of the founder's living sons. Such a move would not be welcomed by other members of the royal family, and could cause an internal rift in the House of Saud.
Whether the ruler in Saudi Arabia is changed will "depend largely on their external benefactor - the United States, and whether the United States wants King Salman and his particular choices of defense minister etc. to continue to rule," political science professor Colin Cavell told RT, adding that there is still "a real problem internally, there's great concern among the Saudi royals over the amount of money."
"What we have is a lot of avariciousness, a lot of greed and this undercuts the entire House of Saud," Cavell said, commenting on the reported letter.