Source: Council on Foreign Relations

With a bold modernization project, Saudi Arabia is embarking on reforms U.S. policymakers have been urging for decades. The crown prince’s recent crackdown could undermine this crucial effort

On November 4, official media announced an order by King Salman for the arrest of some of the most powerful men in Saudi Arabia, including eleven princes. The decree came from a hastily created anticorruption agency headed by his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Laws will be applied firmly on everyone who touched public money and didn’t protect it or embezzled it, or abused their power and influence,” the king’s order proclaimed. The corruption charges appear to be a pretext for the crown prince to displace his rivals, many of whom were close to the late King Abdullah or are concerned about his fast-paced reforms.

With the new arrests, particularly that of the head of the national guard, Mutaib bin Abdullah, the crown prince has assumed control over all the main security forces, including the military and those of the Interior Ministry, as well as the national guard. These positions had previously been allocated to princes from various branches of the al-Saud family to maintain a balance among descendants of the founder of the kingdom, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman al-Saud.

Such a concentration of power is unwise. Saudi Arabia is entering a time of financial stress and simmering internal Islamist opposition, and its population is watching unfolding changes with anxiety. The ambitious modernization program launched by Mohammed is crucial, and palace intrigues may imperil such plans. As rapid changes bring dislocations, a more decentralized government led by an array of princes can best navigate the national course.  READ MORE…

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