Modernizers launch a coup within the House of Saud

A coup is taking place within the House of Saud, in which a modernizing monarch is grabbing power and taking out rivals.  Forces now under command of the ruler just arrested 11 princes among dozens of others and is launching financial investigations that could lead to serious punishment. In Saudi Arabia, they behead people (at least 157 times in 2015) and amputate a limb off of thieves.  It is widely believed that baksheesh is not unknown in Saudi Arabian business circles, and an “anti-corruption committee” was recently formed.  In other words, the tools are in place to take out any opposition among the powerful, within or outside the royal family.

Bloomberg reports:

Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, was removed from his post as head of the powerful National Guards.

That’s the first thing you do in coup: grab control of the forces on the ground.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was picked up at his desert camp, the senior official said. Authorities did not disclose the evidence that prompted the arrests.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal presides over a vast financial empire (estimated $35 billion in 2015):

 Alwaleed is the largest individual shareholder of Citigroup, the second-largest voting shareholder in 21st Century Fox and owns a number of hotels. TIME even called him "Arabian Warren Buffet".

The second thing you do is take out any potential bankroller of rivals.

It all began a month after the historic visit of President Trump, when 81-year-old King Salman displaced the previous crown prince, who was his nephew, as tradition of succession required,[i] and installed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as effectively the monarch. 

MBS, as the Crown Prince is known, is the leader who is launching what modernizers hope will be a Saudi Version of the Meiji Restoration[ii] in Japan, transforming the political economy and culture out of necessity – in order to survive in the modern world system.  The Saudis have practiced religious and cultural isolationism, while their oil allowed the country to avoid the necessity of building an economy that could supply anything else that the rest of the world would be willing to pay for.

The power grab was necessary, because Saudi Arabia has to modernize, and it won’t be pleasant for lots of people, in and out of the royal family. Thanks to fracking and associated technologies, prices are never going to return to $100 a barrel.  The regime itself is at stake because the population is growing and the young have few prospects of employment. The House of Saud almost fell in 1979, when the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by Shiite insurgents (The Saudi Shiite minority is concentrated in the oil producing region near Iran) declaring their prophet to be the Mahdi. The entire religious legitimacy of the family is that they are custodians of the holy places of Islam, and yet they had to bring in Pakistanis to retake the holy of holies, the Kaaba.

Source: Wikimedia

They understand that in order to stay in power, they have to deliver change.

When President Trump visited Riyadh in May, the discussions must have included a mutual understanding of the changes the Regime has in mind. The US delegation included veteran Saudi-hand Secretary of State Tillerson and economic visionary Wilbur Ross of the Department of Commerce. These are precisely the people a monarch would want to talk to about restructuring his regime to cope with a reality that has changed. A big part of the modernization is entering closer relations with Israel, a natural mutual ally in resisting Iranian Shiites. Purportedly clandestine cooperation is widely in to be underway already.

Of the people arrested, Alwaleed bin Tala is the most intriguing for Americans thanks to his Twitter sparring with candidate Trump during the election, and for a startling connection unearthed by Jack Cashill more than five years ago in World New Daily.

In late March 2008, on a local New York City show called “Inside City Hall,” the venerable African-American entrepreneur and politico, Percy Sutton, told host Dominic Carter how he was asked to help smooth Barack Obama’s admission into Harvard Law School 20 years earlier.

The octogenarian Sutton calmly and lucidly explained that he had been “introduced to [Obama] by a friend.” The friend’s name was Dr. Khalid al-Mansour, and the introduction had taken place about 20 years prior.

Sutton described al-Mansour as “the principal adviser to one of the world’s richest men.” The billionaire in question was Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Deep currents are being stirred.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman

[i] This spread power around in the family, allowing for the growth of factionalism within the clan. Now that there is a direct and clear lineage, power can be grabbed at the very top and the rest of the clan brought into line.

[ii] I studied, wrote and taught the Meiji Restoration and realize the many differences in the specifics of the two countries’ situations. No exact parallel is implied.