Details are still emerging about why, exactly, 11 of Saudi Arabia's richest and most influential businessmen and politicians are being held at the Ritz Carlton and other five-star hotels across Riyadh.
But one thing is clear: Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s purge Saturday of high-ranking leaders in the kingdom is yet another sign of the crown prince’s consolidation of power since he ascended to the position this summer.*
Among those detained by the crown prince’s anticorruption committee over the weekend were Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire investor, and at least 10 other prominent figures. Separately, King Salman replaced the minister of the Saudi national guard, who controlled the branches of the military that weren’t yet under the crown prince’s control. Saturday’s move was announced on Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned Arabic-language broadcaster, as part of an anticorruption investigation. But the move comes just months after Crown Prince Mohammed is believed to have orchestrated the ouster of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as the interior minister. Mohammed bin Nayef had served as crown prince until Prince Mohammed’s elevation in June.
Although palace intrigue is often a feature of entrenched systems in which patronage plays an important role in determining who is in favor and who isn’t, what makes the present events in Saudi Arabia particularly surprising is that the monarchy rarely, if ever, airs its laundry in public. Princelings are privately sidelined and officials quietly demoted. The figurative defenestration of public figures such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal could be a sign that the crown prince is sending a message to potential rivals to the throne. It also suggests that, if such rivals exist, the young crown prince is consolidating his power to fend them off.