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Saudi arrests princes, purges key positions

November 5, 2017

Dozens of Saudi princes and current and former ministers have been detained. The move further consolidates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's power as he prepares to take over the throne.

 Mohammed bin Salman / Bandar Algaloud / Anadolu Agency
Image: picture-alliance/AA/B. Algaloud

Saudi Arabia ramped up a major purge on Sunday, a day after the arrest of dozens of princes, officials and businessmen sent shock waves throughout the kingdom.

The purported anti-corruption drive targeted leading figures in the kingdom, including 11 princes, four current ministers and dozens of former ministers.

Read more: Saudi's Mohammed bin Salman: reformer and hardliner 

"The arrests means they go beyond the allegations of corruption, and are designed to further smooth the eventual succession whenever it takes place," said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. "Mohammed bin Salman is remaking the kingdom in his own image, and signaling a potentially significant move away from the consensual balancing of competing interests that characterized Saudi rule in the past."

Anti-corruption commission

The 32-year-old crown prince will also head a new anti-corruption commission, which the government said has the power to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts.

Among those arrested was billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men. Many of those detained were potential rivals and critics of the crown prince. 

Separately on Saturday, Saudi King Salman appointed two new ministers to key security and economic posts.

Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin replaced Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as head of the National Guard, an elite internal security force.

Prince Miteb is the son of late King Abdullah and the last remaining member of that branch of the royal family to hold a top position of power. He was considered a possible contender for the throne before the rapid rise of Prince Mohammed, the son of 81-year-old King Salman.

Read more: Saudi Arabia's next-in-line: a hawk and economic reformer

Prince Turki Al-Faisal on Conflict Zone

Consolidating power

Prince Mohammed, also known by his initials MBS, is already considered the county's de facto ruler.

He is also the minister of defense, leads the kingdom's economic reforms to lessen dependence on oil and drives a more aggressive foreign policy. He has presented himself as a more liberal figure in the conservative kingdom, implementing a number of social reforms.  

The shake-up consolidates Prince Mohammed's control over state institutions and security after he was appointed crown prince in June, sidestepping his older cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef from the line of succession and removing him as interior minister.

The kingdom's security apparatus is now largely under his control, eliminating any threat of internal dissent.

Adel Fakeih, the minister of economy and planning, was replaced by his deputy, Mohammad al-Tuwaijri. The head of the navy was also replaced.

Meanwhile, another Saudi prince, Mansour bin Moqren, was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash near the Saudi-Yemeni border, according to Dubai-based news outlet Al-Arabiya. Moqren, the deputy governor of Asir, was accompanied by a number of other officials. Their fate remains unknown.

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ls, cw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)