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Home Current Saudi News & Analysis Impact of Prince Mohammed’s Maneuvers on Saudi Society

Impact of Prince Mohammed’s Maneuvers on Saudi Society

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Impact of Prince Mohammed’s Maneuvers on Saudi Society

CDHR Commentary: While commentators and analysts are intensely focusing on the motives behind Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s November 4, 2017, actions and predicting their outcome, very little has been said about their impact on Saudi society.

Citing eradication of corruption in his decision to round up and detain powerful members of his ruling family, ministers and businessmen, Prince Mohammed employed a well-calculated strategy to emasculate his critics, rally public support for himself, neutralize his potential royal rivals and assure potential investors of his intention to protect them against Saudi officials’ and businessmen’s devious business practices. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Prince Mohammed’s primary reason for detaining wealthy Saudis is to coerce them into paying for his proposed economic reforms (Vision 2030), which he had been misled into believing he could finance via foreign investments. It is estimated that Prince Mohammed could confiscate up to $800 billion in cash and other assets from the wealthy men he arrested and detained.

One of the most noteworthy consequences of Prince Mohammed’s actions on November 4th, was the public’s animated endorsement of his application of the state’s draconian retributions to wrong doers, irrespective of status or rank, especially royals. For the first time, the Saudi population felt that corrupt members of the vast ruling family and influential businessmen, who have thus far been shielded from punitive state laws regardless of their misconduct, are being held accountable. Prince Mohammed’s arrest and detention of some princes seem to be prompting some Saudis to believe that his actions are signifying a more egalitarian system of governance. Perhaps the Saudi people’s expectations will materialize, but given Prince Mohammed’s unprecedented accumulation of powers and elimination of potential challengers thus far, it is more likely that his reign will be politically more tyrannical than any of his predecessors’, given the Trump Administration’s unconditional support for his policies.

There has been no hint of Prince Mohammed’s intention to introduce any political reforms, without which the ruling family’s domination over every aspect of public lives and livelihood will not only continue, but intensify, as demonstrated by his actions thus far. As the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia wrote when King Salman inherited the throne in 2015, “Dark Days are Ahead for Saudi Society under Salman’s Reign.”

Prince Mohammed was not selected to reform the autocratic political structure to incorporate public participation in the decision-making processes. He was carefully chosen to implement his father King Salman’s long held conviction that the country has been and will remain the private property of the Saudi ruling family. Despite the assumption that Prince Mohammed is the architect of the current Saudi domestic and foreign policies, he is only implementing what his father and his predecessors have contemplated and tried to implement for years. Reforming the economy, the invasion of Yemen, occupation of Bahrain, hostility toward Iran and the Saudi design to incorporate the Gulf states, GCC, into a confederation under Saudi control have been in the making for decades.

Despite Prince Mohammed’s monocratic accrual of powers and his aggressive pursuit of his predecessors’ policies, it appears that the majority of Saudis have expressed support for his decision to arrest and detain some corrupt royals, businessmen and ministers even though it has become clear that detaining these individuals was not solely based on their misconduct. Prince Mohammed needs to raise cash to pay for his economic reform projects and for the majority of the royals’ extravagant life style, including his. This unprecedented move by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed should not be taken to mean the beginning of “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring at last,” as Thomas Freidman inaccurately put it.

However, Prince Mohamed’s recent actions have created an environment of high hopes and expectations among most segments of Saudi society, especially his male and female age group (75% of Saudi society), whose support he needs for his domestic and external credibility, which he must maintain if achieving long term economic benefits and social stability are his real objectives. Prince Mohammed understands that his meteoric elevation to powerful positions alienated and sidelined many powerful members of his ruling family who may machinate to derail his projects or to overthrow him. He needs the support of the Saudi people and failing to build on the current public good-will will prove detrimental to him and to the kingdom he is promising to transform.

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