Billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talala, at least ten princes, and more than a dozen former ministers were among those arrested in Saudi Arabia on Saturday as part of a so-called "anti-corruption" initiative that critics argued is part of a thinly veiled "power grab" by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"His supporters in Washington have not blinked."
—Ryan Grim, The Intercept
"At 32, the crown prince is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, foreign, economic, and social policies, stirring murmurs of discontent in the royal family that he has amassed too much personal power, and at a remarkably young age," the New York Times notes.
King Salman ordered the creation of the "anti-corruption committee"—which is headed by Prince Mohammed—just hours before the arrests began. "The scale and targets of Saturday's purge...dwarfed anything seen in Riyadh in recent years, deliberately targeting figures deemed previously to be untouchables," observed the Guardian's Martin Chulov.
Shortly after news of the mass arrests broke, President Donald Trump called King Salman and praised him and the crown prince for their "drive to modernize the kingdom," but made no mention of the arrests.
"White House officials had no immediate comment on whether Mr. Trump's call should be interpreted as an endorsement of the arrests," the Times reports. "But the statement made clear that the White House approved of everything else King Salman and Prince Mohammed were doing in Saudi Arabia."
As The Intercept's Ryan Grim notes, the U.S. has long held to a kind of "unspoken arrangement" with Saudi Arabia, under which the monarchy is permitted to "pump millions into Washington's political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in 'reform,' and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it"—while selling the repressive regime hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons.
Saturday's mass arrests, which came just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia, further discredit the "platitudes" and gestures toward serious reform made by Saudi leaders, Grim observes—and the implications could be enormous, given Prince Mohammed's "dangerously impulsive and aggressive" support for the war in Yemen, which has resulted in the "world's worst humanitarian crisis."
"Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but [the crown prince] has dug in harder and harder," Grim concludes. "And his supporters in Washington have not blinked."