Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) anti-corruption campaign is the latest dramatic shift in Saudi society that seeks to clean up the bakshish or bribery paid for public-sector contracts. Saudi suspects were arrested regardless of social rank: Crown Prince means business. Those detained include almost a dozen Saudi princes and several dozen current and former ministers. More arrests are coming.
The changes in the Kingdom are sweeping. In September, MBS implemented a new approach to political Islam by singling out supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists. The Crown Prince declared that Saudi Arabia is to return to a “moderate” Islam and intends to “eradicate” extremism.
In both instances, the targeting of key Saudi citizens tells us that the Kingdom is serious about shifting Saudi society away from extremism and corruption. Those who are against Saudi Vision 2030 development program which aims to ween the Kingdom away from the oil curse need to get behind the future Saudi king – or else.
Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a Saudi billionaire with multiple international holdings and companies in the Kingdom, is now under arrest for corruption, specifically, charges of money laundering. Prince Alwaleed is the richest Saudi, worth $17 billion, and one of the world’s most influential people. When MBS emerged as Deputy Crown Prince, Talal pledged during Ramadan to donate his entire fortune to the Kingdom for a “better world of tolerance, acceptance, equality and opportunity for all.” That day may be here.
Notably, Prince Alwaleed’s distain for US President Donald Trump may be a factor, and it may be utterly accidental that the White House dispatched Jared Kushner on the eve of the arrests to Riyadh. Alwaleed criticized Trump heavily during the 2016 US presidential primaries.
For Saudi Arabia, Alwaleed’s past transgressions against the Kingdom is now relevant. In June 2010 the Prince opened a new 24-hour Arabic news channel, Al-Arab. The station was launched in Manama, Bahrain, in 2015 and aired for less than 24 hours before being shut down. Alwaleed’s support for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is likely to be part of the new anti-corruption campaign.
The Alwaleed-Khashoggi relationship is important. The billionaire hired Khashoggi in the ill-fated Al-Arab network, and it is likely that Alwaleed and Khashoggi continued their efforts together that now run against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. Khashoggi said of Alwaleed: “He offers the assurance of strong backing and financial support but he does check facts and numbers.” The two Saudis represent those who are in the way of Crown Prince’s ambitious agenda, which has broad support by almost any Saudi under the age of 40.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, specializing in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. He worked for the RAND Corporation and publishes widely in the U.S. and international media.