When Saudi Arabia’s new anti-corruption committee purged 11 princes and dozens of ministers and officers on November 5, 2017, it sparked speculations and rumors about the country’s political scenario. After all, this was an unprecedented development in the kingdom.
As the events unfolded, it seems that all’s not well in the royal family. In July 2017, Mohammed bin Nayef, who was the next-in-line to the throne, was reportedly deposed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz to allow his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, to become the crown prince.
Terming it a coup, media sources said that the king was determined to elevate his son as his heir to the throne. Earlier, the king and the crown prince came to power only through family consensus in the kingdom. Here, the Ibn Saud family has been ruling over since 1953, after the death of Abdulaziz bin Saud, the first monarch of the kingdom.
After deposing Mohammed bin Nayef, when Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS, as he is known) acceded to the throne, things started to change rapidly. It was he who waged a proxy war against Houthi, a Shia militant group supported by Iran, and the Hezbollah, which is fighting against the Yemen government. Then, Saudi Arabia targeted Qatar for maintaining relations with Iran by imposing a blockade.
Recently, hours after forming the anti-corruption committee, MBS launched the purge against the members of the royal family and wealthy tycoons – including Miteb bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard who could have been a potential future king, and Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the wealthiest men in the world who rubs shoulder with Bill Gates. All the elites purged in charge of corruption have been put under house arrest in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton 5-star hotel.
Then, the Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia, citing rising Iranian influence in Lebanon and the fact that his father was killed allegedly by the Iran-backed Hezbollah. But as the reports are coming out, it seems that he may have been forced to resign by the Saudi regime and also put under house arrest.
The 31-year-old crown prince, MBS, who is overseeing the interior, defense ministries and the National Guard (which is assigned to protect the royal family), is now enjoying unlimited power. No one in the royal family exercises as much power as MBS does now.
Previously, the king of Saudi Arabia used to govern the kingdom with the advice of family members, and the different portfolios were given to the brothers or family members. Now, all the portfolios are being managed by that one man – Mohammed bin Salman. And he is purging all those who oppose his decisions and prove to be hurdles in his way of becoming the next Saudi king.
Behind this game of thrones, the main target of MBS is to reform the Saudi kingdom economically and socially. The kingdom’s economy is largely dependent on oil exports, and it has not been doing well over the last decade. He wants to transform the oil-based Saudi economy into a corporate business.
To this end, he has unveiled a Saudi Vision 2030, which includes a flagship project of establishing a formidable city, Neom, spanning over three countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Egypt. The city, which will have all the facilities of luxurious life including robot services, is being established as an independent economy zone whose governance and rules would be different from those of the kingdom.
Socially, the kingdom has followed ultra-conservative and orthodox forms of Islam. MBS wants to transform it into a modern monarchical state. In order to bring about these reforms, the crown prince is trampling upon the opposition, dissenters and trying to grab absolute powers. It also seems that by hyping anti-Iran sentiments, he wants to gather the support of the Sunni faction for his ambition.
The extent to which the upstart crown prince MBS will succeed in his ambitions is yet to be seen. However, his undemocratic approach and reckless use of power may destabilise the kingdom, or even fuel a civil war if any member of the family incites an armed struggle against him.
His political decisions (the embargo on Qatar, the war in Yemen, etc.) did not go well with the kingdom and have somewhat backfired. Qatar refused to toe the Saudi line, and the rebels in Yemen are steadily fighting against the government as the Saudi intervention could not defeat them.
Undoubtedly, all this is happening with the support and consent of the US, who is the most favorable ally of Saudi Arabia. Publicly supporting King Salman and the crown prince, the US President Donald Trump tweeted, “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing…”