Riyadh (GPA) – A Yemeni missile was the least of many Saudi princes’ and billionaires’ worries last night when they found themselves detained in Riyadh’s lavish Ritz Carlton.
In what Saudi officials call an “anti-corruption sweep,” authorities arrested nearly one dozen members of the royal family, business tycoons, and possibly approximately 38 more. Many of those caught up in the Saudi purges include some of the wealthiest men in the world.
Saudi Vision 2030
Nearly 4,000 business officials from around the world gathered for a conference in Riyadh last week dubbed “Davos in the Desert.” Here, the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled economic plans for global investors.
The goal? Economically consolidate Saudi Arabia’s status as the region’s capital powerhouse by embracing neoliberal reforms. Right now, Saudi Arabia only ranks at about 20 in the world economy. Obviously, they’d like that number to improve.
To reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil revenue, bin Salman’s plans include making the country more attractive to foreign investors.
Post-conference, liberal pundits praised bin Salman for denouncing ultraconservative and traditionalist practices claiming he plans to return to a more moderate version of Islam.
It’s hard to understand what he meant by “return” when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded on Wahhabism: an extremist and bastardized interpretation of Islam which folks around the world incorrectly view as synonymous with the religion as a whole.
Of course, bin Salman mentioned nothing of the country’s oppression regarding Shia Muslims or women in general. In-line with traditional neoliberalism, however, the reforms aim to bring more women into the workplace. Indeed, women cannot be exploited for their labor if they aren’t allowed to leave the home without their husband’s permission. So in that regard, ultra-conservatism is absolutely holding the monarchy back.
Either way, these reforms are precisely what foreign investments are looking for.
The Arrests and Saudi Purges
The full scope of these arrests isn’t exactly clear yet, but a few details are available. Just hours before the detention, Saudi authorities appointed new economic and national guard ministers. Also before the arrests on Saturday, bin Salman announced the formation of a new “anti-corruption committee.”
Among those detained in the Saudi purges include some of the wealthiest men in the world.
Prince Waleed bin Talal
Prince Waleed bin Talal is the grandson of the first Saudi king and has a net worth of roughly $18 billion. He owns shares in media conglomerates such as Twitter, Fox, and Newscorp as well as Citigroup international investment bank.
A media tycoon, Alwaleed al-Ibrahim launched Middle East Broadcasting Centre in 1991 and al-Arabiya in 2003.
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah
Former head and more recently minister of the Saudi National Guard, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah also has financial interest in a French newspaper and luxury hotel.
Bakr bin Laden
Bakr bin Laden is chairman of the largest construction company in the kingdom: Saudi bin Laden Group.
The highest-ranking non-prince, Khalid al-Tuwaijri was previously a driving force behind the kingdom’s foreign policy.
Founder and chairman of one of the largest regional corporations, Dallah al Barakah group, Saleh Kamel is worth roughly $2 billion.
“The suspects are being granted the same rights and treatment as any other Saudi citizen. A suspect’s position or status does not influence the firm and fair application of justice,” said Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, the Attorney General.
A stay in the Ritz Carlton surely isn’t the typical treatment for “any other Saudi citizen.” Reports suggest the hotel is currently booked through December 1st, which indicates that this is only the beginning of this process.
Indeed, the overall goal seems to be to reduce the leeches holding back the Saudi economy through lavish subsidies– not necessarily consolidating bin Salman’s political power as many have suggested.
This does, however, suggest a revamping of Riyadh’s foreign policy doubling down on their anti-Qatar tirade. The goal of the Saudi purges is economic compliance in line with bin Salman’s neoliberal economic reforms– not anti-corruption.
Either way, cracks are deepening throughout the kingdom at high levels.
Also published on Medium.