Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire prince of Saudi Arabia was arrested on Saturday on corruption charges, Apart from Talal, more than 10 other princes and many ministers were arrested in a sweep organised by a new anti-corruption committee formed by Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Talal is reportedly one of the richest men in the world and is worth over $10 billion. He is known to have made investments into global companies like Twitter, Apple, Citigroup, and more. The detentions come at a time of political, social and economic upheaval in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy. Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Crown Prince Salman’s fast rise and consolidation of power have become a talking point not only in the Gulf but all over the world. He has made headlines since his father, King Salman, came to the throne in 2015. With this new series of arrests, global media is speculating on the implications of the arrest and changing times in the Gulf country.
The New York Times says that the “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing their power as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam.” The report says that Saudi has long been under ‘tremendous power’ of religious establishments where ‘bearded enforcers’ have been policing public behaviour. However, things appear to be changing now. Ben Hubbard of NYT writes, “If the changes take hold, they could mean a historic reordering of the Saudi state by diminishing the role of hard-line clerics in shaping policy.”
While the sudden rise in arrests has been received well in the international community, some analysts are wary about the actual reasons and their implications. The Washington Post quoted analysts who believe that the process includes “eliminating critics and rivals, but also elite figures who presided over independent power centers — amounted to a radical restructuring of the Saudi order” Stéphane Lacroix, a professor, was quoted as saying, “Mohammed bin Salman wants to destroy the game of checks and balances that had characterized Saudi Arabia over the past few decades.”
As Saudi Arabia is now targetting the elite, oil prices have reportedly hit a 2-year high. A Financial Times report said, “uncertainty over the situation in Riyadh added to other factors putting upward pressure on oil prices.”
Meanwhile, concerns are being raised about the impact the arrests will have on the technology ambitions of Saudi Arabia. Recently, the country made news because of its flashy showcase of its investments in the technology sector. Alwaleed is one of the prime faces of Saudi tech investing. A report in Recode said, “The arrests come at a precious time for Saudi Arabia: The country is desperately trying to diversify its investments away from oil.”
It is clear that the high-profile arrests in Saudi Arabia have sent shock waves around the globe. But is the anti-corruption drive a genuine process or a selfish act?Jamal Khashoggi, writing for The Washington Post said that Salman is upending this arrangement and centralising all power within his position as crown prince. He further raised questions like “So is the 32-year-old crown prince more like Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev or Vladimir Putin in this effort? Is he on a path to truly reform the entire system? Or is he simply seizing upon well-known figures to further centralize power in his own hands?”