Let’s talk about some real palace intrigue. On Saturday, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia arrested more than ten princes, four ministers, and dozens of former ministers, including several clerics. That list included the noted billionaire and investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world. The move shocked the globe and sent speculations flying.
So what’s going on in the House of Saud? This is the latest step in the consolidation of power of the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The young crown prince is powerful and highly influential mostly because he has the ear of his father, King Salman. No doubt, the crown prince was instrumental in the king’s announcement, just hours before the arrests, of a new anti-corruption committee, which, according to The New York Times, “has the right to investigate, arrest, ban from travel, or freeze the assets of anyone it deems corrupt.”
In addition to the high-profile arrests, the Saudi government closed the airport in Riyadh that is used for private planes — preventing any rich family members or allegedly threatening figures from leaving the country — and Salman announced he is taking the place of the minister in charge of the Saudi national guard, putting all three of the Saudi armed forces under the de facto control of the crown prince, who is also the minister of defense.
Latest in a Series of Saudi Leadership Upheavals
Although the Saturday night arrests were the largest and most surprising moves to consolidate power, they aren’t the first, nor are they out of character for the young king-to-be. Mohammad is a relative newcomer to the line of succession. He only became the crown prince in June, taking the place of the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, Salman’s nephew, who has since been under house arrest.
This change represented a major upheaval of the Saudi system of succession and upset many in the Saudi royal family. Since the founding of the kingdom in 1932 by King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman, also known as Ibn Saud, the throne has gone from brother to brother among Ibn Saud’s children (he had 45 sons). When Mohammed bin Nayef was named crown prince in 2015, he was the first prince to become next in line to the throne who was not one of Ibn Saud’s sons. However, it kept with the spirit of the tradition in that he is the son of the current king’s brother. By redirecting the line of succession to his own son, Salman upended more than 60 years of royal tradition.