Sunday, November 05, 2017

Everything Just Changed In Saudi Arabia-- And It Smells Kind Of Trumpy


Bin Salman & Kushner-in-law-- the bad kind of millennials

All Middle East societies are built on a foundation of corruption. It's part of a way of life. When I got the the Middle East for the first time (1969), I was shocked how corruption permeated every level of society. I remember being on line at a post office and having to haggle with the clerk over the cost of sending a post card. And that was after getting into a fight with some rich creep who thought he could go right to the front of the line because... well, that's what everyone expects rich people to do. Anyway, all this corruption is convenient for the corrupt governments. It's convenient because any time they want to crack down on anyone for any reason, they have the corruption card to play. (Technically, the omnipresent corruption is illegal.) And that's what happened in feudal Saudi Arabia over the weekend. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman, made his move to consolidate power. And he used corruption as the excuse.

Even before I could enter a date
A dozen princes-- as well as military officers, businessmen and ex-ministers-- were detained but the headlines are all about billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (net worth is over $30 billion), a significant part owner of New Corp (Fox), Twitter and Citgroup. The princes and some of the others are being held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, where phone lines have been cut off since Sunday morning. Saudi Arabia's attorney general claims the government is treating the suspects with "the same rights and treatment as any other Saudi citizen." Billionaire beheadings?

Bin Salman, 32, "is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, foreign, economic and social policies, stirring murmurs of discontent in the royal family that he has amassed too much personal power, and at a remarkably young age." Murmurs are not welcome in Saudi Arabia so... the king decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, Saturday afternoon, hours before the roundups and arrests.
Al Arabiya said that the anticorruption committee has the right to investigate, arrest, ban from travel, or freeze the assets of anyone it deems corrupt.

The Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh, the de facto royal hotel, was evacuated on Saturday, stirring rumors that it would be used to house detained royals. The airport for private planes was closed, arousing speculation that the crown prince was seeking to block rich businessmen from fleeing before more arrests.

Prince Alwaleed was giving interviews to the Western news media as recently as late last month about subjects like so-called crypto currencies and Saudi Arabia’s plans for a public offering of shares in its state oil company, Aramco.

He has also recently sparred publicly with President Donald J. Trump. The prince was part of a group of investors who bought control of the Plaza Hotel in New York from Mr. Trump, and he also bought an expensive yacht from him as well. But in a twitter message in 2015 the prince called Mr. Trump “a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.”

As president, Mr. Trump has developed a warm, mutually supportive relationship with the ascendant crown prince, who has rocketed from near obscurity in recent years to taking control of the country’s most important functions.

But his swift rise has also divided Saudis. Many applaud his vision, crediting him with addressing the economic problems facing the kingdom and laying out a plan to move beyond its dependence on oil.

Others see him as brash, power-hungry and inexperienced, and they resent him for bypassing his elder relatives and concentrating so much power in one branch of the family.

At least three senior White House officials, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were reportedly in Saudi Arabia last month for meetings that were undisclosed at the time.

Saudi Arabia is an executive monarchy without a written Constitution or independent government institutions like a Parliament or courts, so accusations of corruption are difficult to evaluate. The boundaries between the public funds and the wealth of the royal family are murky at best, and corruption, as other countries would describe it, is believed to be widespread.

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.
Meanwhile, the Saudis seem to have kidnapped or detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and forced him to resign, something liable to presage an attack on Lebanon's Hezbollah (Shi'ites allied with Iran). Harirri's family gets its money from Saudi Oger, a construction firm owned by the family, which is facing multibillion-dollar debt restructuring. Not enough? How about another prince, Mansour bin-Muqrin, dying in a helicopter crash today along with 7 others, including senior government officials and a mayor.

Trump jumped right into the chaotic mess, of course, blaming Iran for a missile shot at Riyadh by Yemeni Houthis on Saturday: "A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down. That's how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we're selling it all over the world." Saudi Arabia has put a bounty of millions of dollars on 40 Houthi leaders. Sounds like the perfect milieu for the Trump clown show and extended family! Now, with bin-Salman consolidating power, let's see if Aramco lists on the New York Stock Exchange like Trumpanzee has been calling for.

UPDATE: Saudi Power Grab Smells Trumpy

Reminder: money laundering, bribery, extortion and taking advantage of public office for personal gain-- for which the detainees are being charged-- is something everyone who can do it in Saudi Arabia, does it. Meanwhile, Saudi banks are freezing accounts-- some really big ones-- and airports are barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit.

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At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless this coup by the corrupt ruling member of the al-Saud clan results in advancing the Wahhabist theocracy a century or so closer to today, then I'd not trust it any further than a camel can travel through the eye of a needle.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And once again, the us sides with the worst among the worst (sunnis). The shia aren't any great shakes, but at least most of them live in a post 16th-century world.

Advancing Wahhabism a century would only get them up to the 13th. long way to go. baby steps?


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