Of course, a Saudi anti-corruption committee is absurd on its face, because corruption is fundamental to the Saudi way of governing and doing business and everyone in the royal family is in a strict sense “corrupt” — unless we’re meant to believe bin Salman earned his own half-billion-dollar yacht legitimately. The kangaroo-court nature of the committee was made even clearer when it gave itself the power to disregard the law and issued arrest warrants within hours of its formation. This is not a victory against corruption, but rather a power move in Saudi palace intrigue, one with troubling implications.
Many observers have noticed the similarities between Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power and that of Chinese President Xi Jinping. That would be a worrisome development even if MBS had demonstrated competence at governing up until now, but it is even more dangerous when so much power is being concentrated in the hands of a young and reckless neophyte. We have seen how much damage the crown prince already did before this power grab, and I would assume that he will do much more harm now that he is under fewer constraints.
As Shepp notes later on, Saudi Arabia is actually becoming much more authoritarian than it already was, and MBS is concentrating more power in his hands than the old system allowed:
The separation of control over the security forces was meant to keep any one individual or branch within the family from growing too powerful; bin Salman now has more power than any member of his family was really ever meant to have. He’s also breaking the mold of Saudi patronage politics, the consequences of which are unpredictable.
Greg Gause warns that the heavy-handed tactics MBS is using will come back to haunt him:
“It’s overkill – and overkill in a way that makes it harder to achieve his long-term objectives,” said Gause.
If there is one word that sums up MBS’ brief career, it would probably be overkill. It remains to be seen whether MBS’ power grab will produce a significant backlash and what form that backlash will take, but like everything else he has done the purges were excessive and appear to have been done without much thought for the possible pitfalls.