King Salman of Saudi Arabia took over the throne after King Abdallah’s death and appointed his 32-year old son as the Crown Prince. Within days, the King purged Abadallah’s hard line allies, including ten Princes. Another Prince died in a helicopter crash and still another died while under arrest.
The purge is under the direction of a corruption committee run by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Of those imprisoned (prisons are reportedly penthouses), is Alaweed bin Talal, a very public face on CNBC and other American stations. He is a wealthy investor in many major corporations like the Four Seasons hotels and Apple. What makes him of great concern to those paying attention is his alignment with terrorists like Iran, and his established network of Islamic Centers in major U.S. universities, centers that support some forms of Sharia Law. These are universities from which we choose our government officials.
Alaweed bin Talal is also a Trump hater and has battled with him on Twitter though they were once business associates. Alaweed helped him out of a jam in the 1990s.
Crown Prince bin Salman has pledged to destroy extremism and return the kingdom to “moderate Islam.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s speech last month was part of a sweeping rebrand of a country that for years has exported a severe form of Islam and produced most of the 9/11 attackers as well as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
We have many of these mosques here in this country and we aren’t even surveilling them.
The Prince’s reforms are aimed at transforming the way the world sees Saudi Arabia, wean it off of oil and remake the hermetic Gulf kingdom into a hub of international business, finance and technology. There will be social changes as well, changes which have already begun.
He has declared that women be allowed to drive. Salman has said 70% of the country is young, under 30, and they no longer want this tight rule.
His move is risky, dangerous, but even so, over the weekend, an anticorruption body run by Salman detained 11 top princes, four former ministers and dozens of former ministers — sending shock waves across the kingdom.
In September, some 30 clerics, intellectuals and activists were locked up. This “crackdown on dissent,” as it was described by human rights defenders, was followed by this weekend’s detentions. Many of the princes taken into custody by the Salman-led anticorruption body are reportedly are being held in Riyadh’s luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Saudi Arabia has a horrendous human rights record. Political dissenters have generally been imprisoned. It will be interesting to see what happens to them and other Saudis who have been mistreated and imprisoned.
Salman’s bet is that reducing Saudi dependence on oil and transforming the economy will fulfill the needs and desires of his young population, outweighing the views of a powerful clerical class long wary of modernization.
He has to quickly create jobs and forestall any uprisings. It sounds like he has a plan.
Ghadi Al Harbi from Medina, home of one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Islam, is one of the young people is supporting the future king. She wants the government to crack down on radicals.
“We’ve suffered so much and so many innocent people have died for no reason,” said the 19-year-old English student, referring to religious divisions within Saudi society brought on by differing interpretations of Islam.
She said she had seen the effects of extremism firsthand, and knew people who had killed family members they branded infidels.
“If this ideology persists, there will be too much destruction,” Al Harbi said.
An older brother Anwar Al Harbi, 34, sat close by, and he agreed that the government was heading in the right direction in allowing women to drive and opening the economy to the world.
He likes what he is hearing when it comes to the economic plans, particularly a project to build a $500 billion, 10,000-square-mile futuristic business and tech zone dubbed NEOM.
Anwar Al Harbi added people are afraid of what comes after.
“One thing they should be focusing on is the economic element of change. People are scared of the implications when it comes to what is after energy,” he said, referring to the country’s dependence on oil.
It’s both risk and opportunity that lies ahead.
Salman’s comments on preparing for a moderate Islam came during a rare public foray at a high-level business and finance conference in Riyadh, emphasizing that sweeping social changes are also coming.
“We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,” he said on Oct. 24 before some 3,500 delegates from around the world. “We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today.”
His speech at the conference was called, “Davos in the desert.”
Among the panelists were Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock.
He pulled in some key people in the global economy who are interested in making money in Saudi Arabia.
During the summit, the country’s public investment program announced plans to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s space companies. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to float a stake in oil giant Saudi Aramco and privatize other state assets to create the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.
A constant during the conference was Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030, under which the country is expected to slash subsidies, boost taxes and cut the public sector. At the same time, the state aims to get many more Saudis into private sector jobs — including women, who have long been underrepresented in the highly gender-segregated society — and reduce its dependence on foreign workers.
Salman no longer wants Saudi Arabia to be a backward nation driven by backward beliefs.
Salman also runs the kingdom’s defense and oil strategies and has spearheaded real change, limiting the powers of the kingdom’s religious police, who once were able to walk the streets and impose gender segregation and ensure women were covered from head-to-toe in public.
Young people now mix on streets and cafes where music is played and a few women uncover their hair and wear colorful robes.
The crown prince has also lifted a ban on women driving, approved concerts and is expected to reopen movie theaters that have been closed for decades.
People are worried of the consequences because the culture is still ultra-conservative.
Salman’s gamble is that the opinions of the young people he’s courting with social and economic changes outweigh the concerns of religious conservatives who have long supported the ruling Al Saud family.
How far will he go? Women and gays are badly treated, dissenters are imprisoned, there is a two plus years war in Yemen. There is a lot to overcome.