Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saudi Crown Prince Consolidates Power With Anti-Corruption Arrests

Everybody is against corruption, so it has become the new cool way to concentrate power in dictatorial societies to engage in an anti-corruption drive, as Putin and Xi Jinping have done.  Actually corrupt people may well be arrested, but somehow included in the set of those arrested are rivals of the leader who are conveniently disposed of.

So we now see it in Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman has been leading a special anti-corruption committee approved of by the Saudi ulama, and now it has arrested 11 princes accused of corruption.   As in other countries, many of them, possibly all of them are guilty, but included among them are some rivals of Muhammed's for power, and, indeed the full set of names has not been released.

The most important in terms of being a rival is the now former commander of the SANG, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which was long commanded by Prince Meti bin Abdullah, son of the long time former King Abdullah.  Before Meti commanded SANG, Abdullah did so for decades and had the HQ of SANG on his own palace grounds within a wall.  SANG has long been the rival military in Saudi Arabia to the regular military under the Defense Department, which has been under the control of the crown prince since his father became king, succeeding Abdullah.  SANG has a base among the tribes, and it was SANG that finally defeated the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) uprising in 1979 that had led them to seizing control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.  Abdullah was SANG commander at that time, and he had the reputation of having excellent relations with tribal leaders.  His sone was clearly a threat and rival to the crown prince, and now he is out.  The commander of the Saudi navy has also been replaced, although not clear if he has been arrested.

Among the others who are out is the Minister of the Economy, and among the arrested is one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest men, Prince al-Waleed bin Talal.  His father was long the leader of the secularizing and liberalizing faction among the sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz. 

The crown prince has also  been making speeches about how he wants to encourage a moderate form of Saudi Islam.  I wish him luck on that, and his move to allow women to drive starting next June does provide some credibility on this front, although probably with major limits.  As it is, Saudi Arabia is apparently funding the building of many madrassas in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh and Indonesia, where the local forms of Islam are far more moderate than even a moderate form of Saudi Wahhabism would be.

In any case, under the guise of cleaning up corruption, which he may be doing at least partly, it looke like Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman is cementing his power, following in the footsteps of such role models as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Idha ra'aita nuyuba'l-laitha barizatan,fa-la tadhunanna anna'l-laitha yabtasimu.

Anonymous said...

"In any case, under the guise of cleaning up corruption, which he may be doing at least partly, it looke like Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman is cementing his power, following in the footsteps of such role models as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping."

This disdain shown for the Chinese, not for President Xi who is simply a reflection of the the Chinese people but for the Chinese, is shameful. There is in no way a fair or reasonable comparison of the governments of Saudi Arabia or Russia and China. China could well be a model for a range of developing countries by the way.

Anonymous said...

Why not look at what China has accomplished in the way of economic development, actually look, and begin to understand what profoundly bettering the lives of hundreds of millions of people over the last 2 generations amounts to. Only a leadership committed to China as a whole could have led such a development effort.

Anonymous said...

Also, the initial comment is obviously gibberish-spam. said...

Well, I have four anonymous remarks, with the second and third obviously from the same person, who is also probably the one who gave me a hard time about my remarks about the recent CPC congress. The fourth might also by that person, although maybe by somebody else, although probably not by the first anonymous poster.

The opening remark looks to be Arabic, but although I know quite a bit of Arabic, and I see some words that are real, I have not been able to translate it well enough to determine what it says properly, if anything. So, I invite the first anonymous to provide an English translation, if you want what you tried to say to be properly understood.

Regarding the anonymous who thinks I insulted the Chinese people or policies, please read what I wrote. I said not a word about either the Chinese people or current policies. I criticized Xi jinping for seizing total power, just as I criticized Vladimir Putin for doing so as well, and I am criticizing His Royal Highness Emir Muhammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Sa'ud for doing so as well. Try to read properly before you inappropriately shoot off you mouth making yourself look like an idiot. said...

I have just looked at Juan Cole's blog, and he has a post on this matter that completely agrees with everything I have said in my post.

For Anonymous 2 and 3, he did not mention Xi Jinping, but he did mention Putin as a role model, noting in particular that a key to Putin's gaining dictatorial power involved him arresting a lot of oligarchs in his first term. Xi's road to power has not been directed so much at private oligarchs, but more at top party officials who have been involved in corruption (or alleged to have been), with their arrests happening gradually over a period of time without much publicity, although with the message being sent to those attending the congress that this is what will happen to you if you question the authority of Xi Jinping, whose integrity supposedly "covers the whole universe" according to a statement I just saw in China Watch.

Anonymous said...


"When you see the lion's teeth, don't think the lion is smiling!"

(I'm not the other anonymous commenters)

Sandwichman said...

and now... Prince Mansour Bin Muqrin in a helicopter crash. Coincidence?

Anonymous said...

The point is that the policies of the Chinese leadership and President Xi answer to the wishes and needs and approval of hundreds of millions of Chinese people. No matter though, that idea obviously cannot be entertained after 40 years of sustained economic success such as has never before been recorded. The disdain, for that is what it is, for President Xi is of course a disdain for the Chinese people.

What a revealing, awful expression to use "covers the whole universe," but when ridicule and disdain is the purpose that expression will suffice. said...

Shurkan, translator.

S-man: really? Yes, this is getting to be a bit much.

Anonymous taking offense at anything bad said about Xi Jinping. It is a mark of an authoritarian or totalitarian leader that they claim that any criticism of themselves is a criticism of the nation as a whole and its people, not to mention the leader's policies. A-man, you are acting just like the mouthpiece of a totalitarian dictator, and I have utterly no respect for this garbage. I suggest you think carefully think before you post such completely disgusting remarks again.

I have not remotely insulted either the Chinese people or the current policies of the government. I have insulted Xi Jinping, and given your absurd and unacceptable attitude, I intend to continue to do so, just to teach you a lesson. said...

Shukran, not "Shurkan." Ooops, :-).

Anonymous said...

What the heck, possibly since you are a student and writer on international matters you may in time learn what China is about beyond the stereotypical disdain being expressed. Try to actually learn about what China is, after all that would be deserved. I understand though that learning objectively about such a country can be difficult, especially given the atmosphere in the United States or United Kingdom (The Economist editors appear to be unable to get past the UK no longer being an empire).

I am not trying to be a problem, and really do hope you will come to learn about China however much stereotypes demand otherwise. After all, I read and appreciate what you write but here there is a problem.

Anonymous said...

The opening comment may be as translated, but Google will not translate the comment.

Anonymous said...

"I have insulted Xi Jinping, and given your absurd and unacceptable attitude, I intend to continue to do so, just to teach you a lesson."

Funny, do what you will of course. A little self-reflection could help. Repeatedly insulting a national leader who is admired in country after country, admired for the finest of reasons, is unfortunate, but do continue the sad insulting since evidently learning is not now in order.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to have been critical, after all I still think your writings are excellent.

Anonymous said...

Also, again, I found this essay typically helpful and am grateful to have read it. I had hoped you would write on Saudi Arabia. said...


I believe that I have expressed exactly zero disdain for either the Cninese people or their culture or China as a whole, much less "stereotypical" such disdain. I shall not go on about it, but in fact I have been a student of China and its society and history and economy for a long time, and I have been there on quite a few occasions, and I have coauthored with academics from China. Telling me that maybe I might "learn objectively" is silly.

Anyway, I catch that you have shifted back to being polite. I promise not to go out of my way to excessively insult Xi Jinping, but will do so if provoked. I know that he is more respected around the world than the current leader of the US, and I believe that I already said so on another thread.

Anonymous said...

"I promise not to go out of my way to excessively insult Xi Jinping, but will do so if provoked...."

Wonderfully droll.

Anonymous said...

"I have been a student of China and its society and history and economy for a long time..."

Whenever possible I would be grateful for any references. said...

Rumor has it that you are actually anne of Economists View, Anonymous.

RW said...

Certainly not my area of expertise but the aphorism had a ring to it and I became curious. It's from a poem by Al-Mutanabbi

يا أعدل الناس إلا في معــاملتي **** فيك الخصام و أنت الخصم والحكم

Literally translated, "If you see a lion's prominent teeth [canines], don't think the lion is smiling."

The poem is about the founder of the Emirate of Aleppo ca 955 CE, Sayf al-Dawla

إذا رَأيْتَ نُيُوبَ اللّيْثِ بارِزَةً فَلا تَظُنّنّ أنّ اللّيْثَ يَبْتَسِمُ
وَمُهْجَةٍ مُهْجَتي من هَمّ صَاحِبها أدرَكْتُهَا بجَوَادٍ ظَهْرُه حَرَمُ
رِجلاهُ في الرّكضِ رِجلٌ وَاليدانِ يَدٌ وَفِعْلُهُ مَا تُريدُ الكَفُّ وَالقَدَمُ
وَمُرْهَفٍ سرْتُ بينَ الجَحْفَلَينِ بهِ حتى ضرَبْتُ وَمَوْجُ المَوْتِ يَلْتَطِمُ
الخَيْلُ وَاللّيْلُ وَالبَيْداءُ تَعرِفُني وَالسّيفُ وَالرّمحُ والقرْطاسُ وَالقَلَمُ

When the lion bares his teeth, do not
fancy that the lion shows to you a smile.
I have slain the man that sought my heart's blood many a time,
Riding a noble mare whose back none else may climb,
Whose hind and fore-legs seem in galloping as one,
Nor hand nor foot requireth she to urge her on.
And O the days when I have swung my fine-edged glaive
Amidst a sea of death where wave was dashed on wave!
The desert knows me well, the night, the mounted men
The battle and the sword, the paper and the pen

Anonymous said...

Good job, RW. It is by Al-Mutanabbi. I forgot to put in the word "bared." "When you see the lion's teeth bared, don't think the lion is smiling!"

One of my favorite aphorisms,and so apropos with the scoundrels and psyhopaths that run the world these days; another and useful one being "The dogs bark, the caravan passes," especially applicable to the stupid and vapid bickering that goes on in comboxes, and which proves the rule of Pareto.

Barkley Rosser said...

If MbS is a lion, well, he may not be smiling, but if he sets off a war in Lebanon and the war in Yemen gets worse without a victory for his side, which is a very likely outcome, that lack of a smile might be from being unhappy rather than threatening. While he may be a lion to his enemies and rivals in KSA, he looks like a puffed up one abroad.

BTW, it turns out that far more than 11 people have been arrested. That is just the princes. There are also four government ministers, but also apparently a quite large number of other people.

This looks like sweeps by authoritarian leaders in other nations, with Erdogan jailing many thousands as supposed Gulenists, and probably a good chunk of the 1.4 million party members arrested in China as part of Xi Jinping's power grab over the last few years (note to Anonymous anne, this is directed at Xi Jinping, not at the Chinese people or culture or society or economic policy).

As it is these power-grabbing anti-corruption drives are often popular, at least at first when some of those arrested are clearly corrupt. Supposedly many young Saudis are applauding MbS's moves, although we do not have reliable polls on this. Many resent the advantages that the Saudi royal family has exercised for a long time, so busting a carefully selected handful of them might be popular, especially given that MbS apparently has complete control of the media to advertise his line on this. We have seen the same thing in Russia with Putin's selective busts of criticizing oligarchs, and elsewhere as well. said...

I saw in the Washington Post this morning the total count of those arrested in KSA, 38, a pretty good sized purge. Among them is the head of the bin Laden construction company, Bakr bin Laden, a half-brother of the late Osama. The latter was estranged from his family. The father, Mohammed bin Laden, was a Yemeni and rebuilt the Grand Mosque in Mecca after the Ikhwan rebels were expelled from it by the Saud Arabian National Guard, then commanded by Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, later king, and father of the SANG commander, Meti bin Abdullah, who was also just deposed. said...

Oh, now I have seen a report on Marginal Revolution that 60 in KSA have been "detained." I think we still do not know what has happened in KSA, but I think a lot of it is not good.

I applaud MbS for allowing women to drive starting next June, oh, and letting them go with men to see public sports events, whoop-de-doo.

Beyond that, most of it looks like either delusions or warmongering garbage.

Barkley Rosser said...

I WaPo this morning it was reported in a story about how MbS's actions may destabilize Lebanon that the number arrested in KSA is over 200. It was also noted by Anne Applebaum that there are countries where someone is charged with corruption and then arrested and then others where someone is arrested and then charged with corruption, with KSA being among the latter.