Saudi Saturday Night Massacre: Billionaire Bin Talal, Dozens of Others Arrested

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Saudi Saturday Night Massacre: Billionaire Bin Talal, Dozens of Others Arrested

"When the smoke clears, look for Mohammad Bin Salman and his circle to have consolidated power dramatically."

"The crown prince already controls media inside the kingdom, as well as the appointment of governorships," Cole writes. (Photo: Jim Mattis/Flickr/cc)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia created a high-powered “anti-corruption” commission on Saturday, appointing his son, the crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman, to head it. The committee is a sort of star chamber, with wide powers to freeze bank accounts, ground private jets, and order suspects jailed.

"While no doubt there is corruption in Saudi Arabia, this move is more like a power grab by the crown prince."

Almost immediately after the announcement, ten princes, four sitting cabinet members, and several former cabinet secretaries were abruptly charged with corruption and taken into custody.

One of those arrested is al-Walid Bin Talal, the billionaire owner of Kingdom Holdings, who is a major shareholder in Twitter, Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, CitiBank and Lyft, among other things.

While no doubt there is corruption in Saudi Arabia, this move is more like a power grab by the crown prince.

Indeed, it looks very much like Vladimir Putin’s destruction of those Russian oligarchs who got in his way. In essence, the crown prince is cutting the Saudi oligarchs down to size.

Mohammad Bin Salman has many advantages over Putin. The crown prince already controls media inside the kingdom, as well as the appointment of governorships. Putin had to strive hard to obtain leverage over those institutions.

When the smoke clears, look for Mohammad Bin Salman and his circle to have consolidated power dramatically.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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