A Changing Saudi Arabia


Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (Sgt. Amber I. Smith via Department of Defense)

Early November 10, a plane carrying Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri landed in Saudi Arabia and was immediately surrounded by Saudi police. Shortly after, Hariri announced his resignation as Prime Minister from Riyadh and spoke at length about the uncertainty Lebanon faces in the Middle East due to tensions with Iran. That same day, Saudi Arabia quickly urged all of its citizens to exit Lebanon. These events come only a week after Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the arrests of 11 Saudi princes, 4 ministers, and several other ex-ministers, including billionaire investor Alwaleed bin Talal, in the first public move of a new anti-corruption campaign.

The Saudi Arabian government has offered little explanation for what has been widely viewed as an attempt by the Crown Prince to consolidate power. The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia to the United States released a statement on November 5 that read in part: “The Minister of Culture and Information, Dr. Awad bin Saleh Al-Awad stated that the royal decree to fight corruption is part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s overall efforts to promote integrity and advance reform initiatives.” The spokesperson for the embassy could not give any further comment, but referred back to the official statement as the country’s only explanation for these arrests.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced his plan to rebrand Saudi Islam by weeding out extremism and championing a more moderate version of the religion, already beginning to take power out of the hands of the Saudi Arabian clergy. The Crown Prince has not been afraid of taking public and clear power moves to cement his position.

As official guidance to State Department employees in countries neighboring Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “The United States strongly supports the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Lebanon and of its political institutions. The United States urges all parties both within Lebanon and outside to respect the integrity and independence of Lebanon’s legitimate national institutions, including the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

US spokeswoman Heather Nauert spoke about the anti-corruption arrests in an earlier State Department briefing, saying that the US government continues “to encourage the Government of Saudi Arabia to pursue prosecution of corruption in a fair and transparent manner.”

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, The Independent, Time, State.gov, SaudiEmbassy.net

Photo: Wikimedia Commons