Wave of arrests in Saudi Arabia

Yesterday evening, eleven members of the Saudi royal family and a dozen former ministers have been arrested on corruption charges. This has been reported by al-Arabiya, an Emirati TV outlet. This wave of arrests was authorised by an anti-corruption committee which has been created only a few hours prior to the arrests and which is chaired by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman. Among the arrested are a son of the former king Abdullah, and the heads of three Saudi television networks.

Despite the situation not being entirely clear, there is no complete list of detainees for instance, the corruption charges seem to be ostensible. Muhammad bin Salman, who is said to be the actual ruler of the country, seems to be interested in consolidating his power. The son of the current king Salman has been made crown prince in June 2017.

The Saudi royal family is widely ramified as the founder of the current state of Saudi Arabia, Abd al Aziz ibn Saud had multiple children with different wives. The question of succession, therefore, is crucial for the royal family as no family branch wants to be excluded from power. Should Muhammad bin Salman really become the next king of Saudi Arabia, he would be the first king from ibn Saud’s grandchildren’s generation to rule the country.

This purge has been seen rather critical as Muhammad bin Salman, who sometimes is referred to colloquially as “MbS”, as its consequences may be far-reaching. It is said that several business partners of the West are among the arrested which may cause disruptions on financial markets.

Additionally, the question is how Iran, the main adversary of Saudi Arabia in the region, reacts to this purge. Tehran may be tempted to use this disunity in the al-Saud family to aggravate the disruption. Another question is how the other Saudi family branches react to Muhammad bin Salman’s attempt to secure his power. If he is successful in implementing his strategy of eliminating potential rivals to his rule from the equation, Muhammad bin Salman could achieve a smooth transition from the sons’ to the grandchildren’s generation. However, he may also give the other family branches the reason for harshly opposing his rule.

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