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.