Yesterday, the Saudi government announced sweeping arrests of members of the royal family and other officials on charges of corruption.
Saudi authorities have arrested dozens of high ranking officials including the billionaire prince who owns the Savoy Hotel in London in an anti-corruption crackdown that strengthens Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grip on power.
Police arrested 49 people including 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers in raids across Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Royal planes were grounded as authorities swooped in, corralling princes, former officials and media tycoons into five-star hotels across the capital for questioning.
Also caught up in the purge was Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the last of the late King Abdullah’s sons to hold a position of real power. Until yesterday, he was head of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, which accounts for about half of the country’s military. The rest of the military answers directly Mohammad bin Salman.
Other arrests include Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister, Adel Fakieh, an economy minister, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a former governor of Riyadh. Major business figures including Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the big Saudi Binladin construction group, and Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the MBC television network, were also detained.
Considering corruption is about as rare in Saudi Arabia as sand fleas and bad water, what they were up to was either heroic in proportions or the arrests were a sham. Saudi Arabia’s monarch is known to be trying to clear the decks for his heir apparent.
The arrests came a few hours after the king replaced the minister in charge of the Saudi national guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who controlled the last of the three Saudi armed forces not yet considered to be under control of the crown prince.
The king named Crown Prince Mohammed the minister of defense in 2015. Earlier this year, the king removed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as head of the interior ministry, placing him under house arrest and extending the crown prince’s influence over the interior ministry’s troops, which act as a second armed force.
Rumors have swirled since then that King Salman and his favorite son would soon move against Prince Mutaib, commander of the third armed force and himself a former contender for the crown.
#BREAKING: Deputy governor of Saudi Arabia's Asir province and other officials killed in helicopter crash: state media pic.twitter.com/n7tuOqQZQy
— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) November 5, 2017
Without doubt a coup is taking place in Saudi Arabia. Royal arrests and now a "helicopter crash" killing a senior prince. #SaudiArabia
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) November 5, 2017
Yes, it is that George Galloway.
Flash. What is happening in Saudi Arabia: a helicopter crash: Prince Mansur bin Muqrin and others killed… https://t.co/5D0b0GPsQ4
— asad abukhalil أسعد أبو خليل (@asadabukhalil) November 5, 2017
Saudi Arabia: prince Mansoor bin Mogrin killed in UH-60 helicopter crash. Next day after massive arrests https://t.co/06GM1iVafR
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) November 5, 2017
BREAKING: Saudi Prince – Prince Mansour bin Muqrin bin Abdulaziz has been killed in the Helicopter Crash near Yemen broder #SaudiArabia pic.twitter.com/h0FGm9reJt
— OSI News (@OSINews) November 5, 2017
BREAKING: Video of Saudi Princes boarding the Helicopter just moments before the Crash #SaudiArabia #HelicopterCrash pic.twitter.com/gmt9uLVC2y
— OSI News (@OSINews) November 5, 2017
As the old Moscow Rules adage goes: “Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.”
What is curious about the Arab media coverage is that the tone of the articles clearly indicate that no one thinks any of this is an accident.
The helicopter accident, juxtaposed with the corruption arrests, looks like the elimination of rivals. How very odd that the helicopter was loaded with high ranking officials. What very bad luck.
Assuming that this is not an accident, one has two easy explanations. First, a coup-in-the-making was detected and the king decided to take them out. The removal of the commander of the Saudi National Guard, which is the force that is supposed to defend the royal household, just before the corruption arrests and the fact that the arrested include top people in Saudi media seems related. One could hypothesize that the guys in the helicopter were ringleaders or, if you want to go full Tom Clancy, they were trying to flee and were shotdown.
A second hypothesis is that the king has received some bad medical news and he was forced to move up the schedule for consolidating the power of his heir apparent.
It could all be a coincidence but it certainly is a fortuitous one in which all the bad news came to rivals of the Crown Prince.