Analysis & Opinions - Wall Street Journal

The Strategy Behind the Saudi Strife

| Nov. 06, 2017

The young crown prince is gambling that personal freedom will encourage financial responsibility.

Change is accelerating in Saudi Arabia. Over the weekend King Salman bin Abdulaziz removed his predecessor’s powerful son as head of the national guard. The king detained 11 princes along with current and former ministers on corruption charges. Behind the move is Saudi Arabia’s young reformer, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is gambling that the moves will be seen at home and abroad as cleansing the kingdom of tarnished old ways—not as the whim of an authoritarian ruler.

This crackdown is intended to frighten anyone with power—not only the prince’s royal and religious opponents. In a monarchy infamous for widespread malfeasance, an anticorruption campaign means almost every prince and current or former minister is vulnerable to being targeted, detained, blocked from travel, and stripped of his assets. Not even aides and associates are safe. But it’s unlikely the opposition will grow much, as the crown prince has spent the past year taking control of internal security and defense. The message is clear: Get behind reform or be silenced.

Already the Saudi public is tweeting its support. Yet Western investors, whose money and expertise the kingdom needs, are unsure if this campaign is proof of modernization or autocratic business as usual. In Saudi Arabia, the rule of law is the king. So long as he lives, he is all-powerful; once dead, his legacy and projects are at risk. Foreign investors may think this system still entails too many risks.

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For Academic Citation: House, Karen.“The Strategy Behind the Saudi Strife.” Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2017.

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