The Saudi Sack
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Politics and Activism

The Saudi Sack

Saudi Arabia's political purge of November 5 signifies a greater trend of centralization.

The Saudi Sack
Al Arabiya English

The purge of political rivals is far from unbeknownst in the international political arena. Throughout history, political purges have been a widespread tactic of the authoritarian consolidation of power. The manner by which an executive purges rivals has been varied— ranging from imprisonment to execution— but has always been a means to transfer power from the people to the executive. On Saturday the 5th, the Saudi Arabian government announced the arrest of at least 16 prominent public figures, the implications of which severely affect both the Saudi masses and residents of the US.

Although King Salman currently holds the Saudi throne, it is speculated that the purge was pushed by his son and probable heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As the king’s top adviser, the 32-year-old crown prince has an enormous amount of influence in economic, military, domestic and foreign affairs. Because of his breadth of personal power, the young prince is no stranger to criticism; his relationship to the throne has been characterized as corrupt as worst, while his actions have been described as brash at best. However, the label of corruption used to decorate his situation may seem antithetical to his stated motive behind the political purge, which were done in the name of anti-corruption.

In the wake of the purge, it has been speculated that the arrests were carried out not to erase corruption, but to clear the political stage of the crown prince’s opponents, allowing for a smooth ascension to the throne when the time comes. Such a perspective is perhaps validated when the stature of those who were arrested is taken into account.

Most notable, among those apprehended were Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a man who has been referred to as “the Warren Buffet of Saudi Arabia” and has an estimated net worth of $32 billion. As one of the world’s most prominent global investors, with holdings in Western corporations like Citigroup and Lyft, Prince Alwaleed is no stranger to Western politics. In fact, the Prince has repeatedly taken to Twitter, another source of his investment, to criticize American politicians and policy.

In 2015, Prince Alwaleed tweeted at Donald Trump, calling him “a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all of America.” With that, he urged Trump to drop out of the presidential race. Prince Alwaleed, who is seen as politically moderate in his home country, has also criticized the Saudi crown, speaking out against the ban on women driving years before it was lifted. Thus, many wonder if, by choosing to arrest a politically informed prince with critical tendencies, King Salman and his son can accurately claim that Prince Alwaleed’s investments are the real subject of royal scrutiny.

Since Prince Alwaleed has actively criticized President Trump in the past, it may not come as a surprise that the latter has been silent towards the prince’s detainment despite its implications for American businesses. Charges against Alwaleed were brought by a newly informed anti-corruption committee created by the crown prince, which has the authority to freeze the assets of anyone it apprehends.

What will the loss of Alwaleed’s participation in investment mean for his American benefactors? Rather than comment on possible implications of Alwaleed’s arrest on his US business partners, the President has remained silent about the purges in the 24 hours since they were made public. However, he has spoken to King Salman since then; on Saturday the fifth, the had a conversation in which Trump warmly endorsed Salman’s modernization efforts.

Although social progressions in Saudi Arabia have been made, such as the lifting of the ban on women driving, the term “modernization” has been used synchronically with “centralization” throughout history. As such, many are taking Trump’s statement, in conjunction with his choice to sideline the topic of the arrests in favor of discussion of military purchases, as implicit support for the actions of the Saudi crown.

Could Trump hold a grudge against Alwaleed, who he once deemed a “dopey prince” backed by “daddy’s money” on Twitter? Such a claim may be a stretch; however, opinions on it may only be formed once the White House releases a statement explicitly responding to Saturday’s arrests.

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