A newly formed anti-corruption committee has detained several prominent figures of Saudi Arabia’s elites.
This includes the likes of 11 senior princes, some of whom are high-ranking ministers.
Amongst those arrested are Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, billionaire businessman and owner of investment firm Kingdom Holding, and ministers Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.
The arrests were ordered through a royal decree by current Saudi leader King Salman, and the anti-corruption committee, headed by his son and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The arrest is uncharacteristic of Saudi Arabia’s political and cultural framework as royals were traditionally seen as ‘untouchable’.
Needless to say, much of Riyadh is in chaos, as the capital’s wealthy and powerful makes sense of the shocking crackdown on some of the most prominent individuals in the region (and country).
In a statement, King Salman proclaimed his desire to reform the business and political landscape of Saudi by identifying “offences, crimes and persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption”.
The committee also stated that they would be investigating issues such as the government’s response to the 2009 Jeddah floods and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus outbreak.
According to The Guardian, the Crown Prince’s associates said the unprecedented move was made to reform social norms in the kingdom, “where patronage networks often determine business deals and prominent families secure substantial cuts from lucrative contracts”.
A new era
These arrests came just after another political shake-up in Saudi Arabia, where King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed bin Salman as the kingdom’s Crown Prince.
Next in line to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman has been making some significant changes to his country.
These include his ambitious plan of transforming Saudi Arabia’s economy – named Vision 2030, the plan aims to revolutionize Saudi living in the next 12 years or so – and involvement in ending the country’s infamous ban on allowing women to drive.
The Crown Prince has made comments on how his country has not been “normal” for the past 30 years; he then pledged to return the kingdom to “moderate Islam”.
Consolidation of power
While these efforts to reform Saudi Arabia are commendable, others have speculated that such bold moves may be more of an act of power consolidation for the soon to be King.
Besides the obvious transferral of power from King Salman’s nephew to son, several other high-ranking clerics had been also previously detained by the Crown Prince due to their lack of support in his boycott of Qatar; the clerics have made mentioned that going against Qatar would destabilize the region.
Therefore, it is little wonder that some observing the chain of events have viewed the supposed corruption probe as another way of weeding out opposition, political rivals and ambitious heirs.
According to Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara, he said the “new chapter” only opened up more questions, stating that the nature of the arrests was all “done in secrecy”.
He also noted the alleged cooperation that was happening in Saudi, and said the stage was clearly set, with “all the major media networks, newspapers, and commentators” groomed and ready “to defend the crown prince and his policies”.
The senior analyst then went on to explain the implications of the arrests, explaining that historically, “revolting against the royals is not a good idea” and such actions will inevitably lead to discontent among Saudis.
In a statement, attorney general, Saud al-Mojeb, said the newly mandated corruption commission has already made progress in their investigations.
He further commented that despite the detainees being highly ranked Saudis, they would be subjected to the same treatment as any other civilian.
Echoing the Crown Prince’s stand on moving away from nepotism, the attorney general further commented that “a suspect’s position or status does not influence the…fair application of justice”.
The United States, arguably one of Saudi Arabia’s most notable allies in the western world, has responded kindly to the shift in leadership, with President Donald Trump giving his blessings and support to the Crown Prince.
This renewed relationship between Saudi Arabia comes after President Trump’s visit to the kingdom in May, where the visit was largely seen as the United States’ way of amending relations with their Middle Eastern ally, which had weakened significantly under the Obama administration.
The convention centre where the meeting between Trump and Saudi Arabia officials took place is right next door to the five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel, which is said to currently house the detained princes and ministers.