Saudi Arabia's crown prince has disposed of his greatest rivals for now. But, DW's Bachir Amroune writes, the palace intrigue in Riyadh could turn out to be an opportunity for the Gulf monarchy.
The man has a keen sense of superlatives, and he knows how to market himself. At all of 32 years of age, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has repeatedly made news that creates huge waves because it represents a break with Saudi Arabia's traditionally conservative style of politics: The country has recently has waged war against bitterly poor Yemen, helped negotiate a $500 billion (€430 billion) business deal with the US, blockaded Qatar, planned for a futuristic city on the Red Sea called Neom, and even announced thatSaudi Arabia will no longer embrace extreme interpretations of Islam — akin to a break with official state doctrine.
To top it off, Mohammed had 11 influential princes, four acting ministers, dozens of former ministers and various rich businessmen arrested in the dead of the night, with their assets frozen, officially as part of his fight against corruption. The inquiry is to be led by a commission that the prince created just hours before the arrests.
With 10,000 princes, the Saudi royal family is easily the world's largest. But only a handful of these princes have actual political ambitions. On Saturday, Mohammed bin Salman neutralized the most important among them, Mutaib bin Abdallah, one of the former king's sons who was in charge of the Saudi National Guard. The Guard's officers, recruited mainly on merit of their tribal loyalty, were personally indebted to him. Leaks from within the royal family made it known in July via Twitter that Mutaib was resisting his pending dismissal by the Crown Prince. Now that has been taken care of,
The prince no longer faces immediate threats from the security apparatus. In June, he had already dismissed and put under house arrest his biggest rival, powerful Interior Minister and heir to the throne, Muhammad bin Nayif.
As both crown prince and defense minister, Mohammed controls Saudi Arabia's intelligence and security services. He broke with the decades-old tradition of spreading these positions among the Al Saud family's various branches in order to keep the balance of power among them.
The prince does not need to worry about serious opposition from the media or business sector, either. One of the princes he had arrested is Al-Walid bin Tallal, one of the richest men in the world, an influential media mogul in the Arab World who ran the opposite of a conservative media empire and a jet-set playboy who enjoyed making liberal, critical remarks in international media.
Greedy for power
Few Saudis will shed tears for the men incarcerated — even if their arrests come across as highly selective and were far from constitutional or transparent. It is actually likely to enhance Mohammed bin Salman's popularity.
Saudis have increasingly complained about rampant corruption, which could cost their economy more than $ 100 billion per year — about a quarter of the overall state budget. The people are also fed up with living in a system that slaps barbaric punishment on ordinary citizens while the royal family is rarely prosecuted for its misconduct.
Even if the prince is not quite democratic in his reforms — which look more like an effort to consolidate power — his ascent has helped bring down the men who created and continue to defend the inflexible old Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed bin Salman said he wanted to radically change Saudi Arabia. He intends to move away from extreme interpretations of Islam and oil, once the kingdom's lifeblood, and build a modern economy and give young Saudis more rights. He has given his plan the name "Saudi Vision 2030." His country is damned to realize this vision. Should it fail to, it won't just perish because of the current annual state budget deficit of $200 billion.