Look, it’s been a busy weekend. We understand if you maybe aren’t one hundred percent current on the state of Saudi political affairs. But here’s the thing: You probably should be.
That’s because in just this past weekend, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced the arrests of 11 of his cousins, all princes themselves. NYT reports the motives behind these detentions are currently unclear; it could have been a response to a coup attempt, but more likely it was an effort by the crown prince to centralize and solidify control over the country.
At least 38 former or current government officials have been arrested and accused of corruption, CNN reports. These arrests occurred as the crown prince announced the creation of a new anticorruption agency.
Then, on Sunday, a helicopter crash killed another Saudi prince, Mansour bin Muqrin. Tying the two events together would be irresponsible at this stage, but Prince Mansour was the son of a former crown prince who was “pushed aside” by Mohammed’s father, King Salman.
The most likely explanation for the arrests is that Crown Prince Mohammed is solidifying his power before he takes over as king. The crown prince was named heir to the ailing King Salman, his father. The arrests are a clear message to the rich and powerful of Saudi Arabia that Crown Prince Mohammed is the future. And the arrests did include the rich—Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman, was included in the most recent round.
But that’s not all Mohammed bin Salman has done. While the crown prince has been known in the past as a voice of relative progressivism—he wants his nation to not be so dependent on its oil, and he was the one who made it legal for women to drive—he has taken this to a new level recently. Prince Mohammed weakened the authority of Muslim clerics, stripping religious police of the ability to make arrests.
Crown Prince Mohammed clearly wants to show the world a more open, tolerant face of Islam and move away from the restrictive Wahhabism that has defined Saudi Arabia. To do so, he seems to plan to use sheer political force, bringing his many princely relatives to heel. It’s unclear exactly how this will play out for the country, but one thing is certain: Whatever Saudi Arabia’s future may hold, it involves Mohammed bin Salman.