Mohammed bin Salman has detained family members seen as threats to his rule yet again
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who uses the self-styled moniker of MbS, has been projecting himself as an energetic reformer, a modernist with a deep understanding of and respect for what the people, especially the youth, want. The grandiose plans laid out by him to pull his country back from the dark ages, especially with its dipping oil potential, through a series of economic and foreign initiatives, have received international acclaim. But the fact remains that no matter how benevolent he might want to be seen as, he is an absolutist and autocrat. He has no qualms in stifling criticism over the image he has crafted, locking up not only fellow members of the royal family but activists, religious moderates and even young economists questioning his “Vision 2030” programme. Not to forget the hit he purportedly ordered against columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. So his latest crackdown on his family, including two senior princes, over treason, isn’t shocking. Clearly, this is another move to stamp his authority over the entire kingdom, which until now was headed by powerful branches of the ruling family. The detention of the two princes means there cannot be any more challengers. Clearly, he doesn’t want the ghosts of his controversial ascension to haunt him. Breaking all norms, he was appointed the youngest heir apparent in Saudi history despite being the seventh son. Other members of his family, including the more experienced cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, who has now been detained, were sidelined or placed under house arrest. He may silence the royal house but can he silence the growing criticism over his transformational intent?
When he took over in 2017, Bin Salman at first was carefully progressive, allowing women to drive, cracking down on hardliners, diversifying the country’s oil-based economy, jumpstarting non-oil industries and making technological advancements. In the process, he ensured that the supremacy of the royal house wasn’t diluted, claiming that revolution could come only from the highest seat of power and not from the people. That explains his provocative crackdowns on the the intelligentsia, which has elicited international condemnation. And now that his modernisation and economic uplift are in tatters — oil prices have plunged about 30 per cent since January — Bin Salman has only his strategic worth to fall back upon. For the US, to counter Iran, and for India, to neutralise Pakistan.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)