Saudi Arabia learns a lesson or two from China

According to an article in the Financial Times, “At least 11 Saudi Arabian princes and downloaddozens of senior officials and prominent businessmen, including one of the world’s richest men, have been arrested by the country’s new anti-corruption commission … [even[ … Billionaire tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a major investor in Twitter, Citigroup and many other international companies, was among the senior figures detained in the crackdown, people aware of the matter said … [and] …  The private airport in Riyadh was closed to prevent personal jets being used to assist any escape, these people added.

The arrests,” the article goes on to explain, “first reported by the Saudi-owned Al nintchdbpict000333232841Arabiya news channel on Saturday, came just hours after King Salman ordered the establishment of a new anti-corruption commission and named his 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to lead it … [and] … The international stature of outspoken Prince Alwaleed, who has sparred with US president Donald Trump on Twitter and is estimated to be worth around $18bn, has amplified the global reaction to the crown prince’s domestic campaign. Shares in Kingdom Holdings, his investment company, fell 10 per cent on the Tadawul stock exchange, despite announcing a sharp rise in third-quarter earnings on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia (which I have not visited for well over a decade) is (was, anyway, when I was there last) somewhat in need of an anti-corruption campaign, as is China (which I have visited in 2017). The authoritative Transparency International corruption index for 2016 ranked Saudi Arabia as only 62nd out of 176 countries measured (a higher score is better, Canada is 9th) ~ that’s not horrible (Italy is 60th and Brazil, China and India are tied for 79th place), but it’s not good, either. So an anti-corruption campaign makes good economic sense, as it does in China.

But these anti-corruption campaigns can also be very useful at sidelining political mutaibopponents as Xi Jinping showed. In addition to officials, minor princes and billionaire investors (with holdings in Canada) Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, a contender for the throne and head of the Saudi National Guard, “an elite internal security force originally based on traditional tribal units” of over 200,000 troops that guards the royal family and the holy places, was relieved. The Australian new outlet, says that “His ouster as head of the National Guard essentially sidelines one of the most formidable rivals to the current crown prince, who has amassed enormous power in less than three years since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne … [and] … It comes just three months after Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted from the line of succession and from his post as interior minister, overseeing internal security … [thus] … With the two princes now sidelined, control of the kingdom’s security apparatuses is now largely centralised under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also defence minister.

xi_jinping_chinanewapThis is just how Xi Jinping consolidated power: by sidelining senior rivals and pushing loyalists into positions of power. Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Beijing’s Renmin University is quoted in the South China Morning Post (linked article) as saying that ““The latest campaign aims to strengthen Xi’s power by boosting his absolute status within the leadership,”” which seems to be pretty much what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has done.


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