The crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the weekend announced the arrests of 11 prominent figures and several changes to top government ministries.
"The unusual arrest of prominent figures close to the Saudi royal family this weekend is a big deal. It is part of unprecedented and hasty measures that could have tremendous repercussions on Saudi Arabia and the region," says Abdeslam Maghraoui, a professor of political science at Duke University.
“The royal family has always been secretive about managing its internal affairs. The arrests have now appended that quiet, implicit arrangement, opening the way for public conflict and power jockeying among royals and between tribes, families and religious conservatives. Moreover, the move takes place at a critical moment when the country is gearing up for major economic, social and political transformations. The country’s total dependence on oil revenues is no longer sustainable. Increasing social demands, women’s yearning for basic rights and exasperation with the religious police in public life can no longer be ignored.”
“And the coming to power of a new generation of princes, including crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, is creating uncertainty and stress within the power structure. Without new and open institutions, such anxiety could result in unwise decisions and usher in an era of political instability if not violent infighting.”
“At the regional level, the hostile posturing of the new crown prince is a huge gamble. He has been the most vocal proponent of an aggressive policy toward Shi’ite Iran. In Yemen, where Saudi authorities accuse Iran of sponsoring Houthi rebels, the crown prince forced a bloody civil war since 2015. A Sunni coalition of nine African and Middle Eastern countries symbolically supports the military intervention, but Saudi Arabia is bearing the brunt of the conflict. There is no military solution to this conflict and yet Saudi Arabia is showing no sign of finding a compromise.”
“In sum, keeping in mind that Bin Salman is still crown prince, the succession after his father’s death or retirement will not be smooth. And in the region, Saudi Arabia’s aggressive stand toward Iran is extremely risky because Iran’s influence is extensive and not all Sunni countries see it as a mortal threat.”
Maghraoui is associate professor of the practice of political science. He is core faculty in the Duke Islamic Studies Center and Duke University Middle East Studies Center. His research focuses on the interactions between culture and politics in the context of Arab and Muslim majority countries.
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