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The Saudi Purges

The Saudi government arrested dozens of high-ranking figures including princes and current and former ministers in a massive purge under the direction of the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS):

Saudi Arabia announced the arrest on Saturday night of the prominent billionaire investor Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, plus at least 10 other princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers.

These arrests are being presented as part of an “anti-corruption” campaign, but they are also unmistakably part of MBS’ ongoing consolidation of power before he ascends to the throne. They follow the crackdown on internal dissidents two months ago. All of this suggests that the crown prince does not feel all that secure in his position, and has been resorting to heavy-handed tactics to ensure that his succession proceeds without incident. Framing the arrests as an “anti-corruption” measure also helps to sell the crown prince as the “reformer” that his Western boosters want to pretend that he is.

The intensifying authoritarianism on display from the next Saudi king is cause for serious concern. The U.S. is now very closely and publicly aligned with him, and his repressive measures receive tacit support from Washington at the very least. That would be bad enough even if MBS were capable of delivering anything of value for the U.S., but instead he has proven to be completely inept in running the kingdom’s foreign policy. He has presided over a debacle in Yemen that is destroying that country and has been making the U.S. complicit in the Saudi-led coalition’s crimes. He has led Saudi Arabia and its allies into a pointless campaign against Qatar that has mainly succeeded in driving Qatar closer to Iran while demonstrating the weakness of the Saudi-led bloc. There is no reason to think that he will be any more capable or competent when it comes to ruling the kingdom when he takes over from his father. These purges are the work of an ailing king and an insecure and reckless crown prince, and they bode ill for the future stability of Saudi Arabia. That is one more reason why the U.S. should start disentangling itself from the noxious Saudi relationship as soon as possible.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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