John R. Bradley in Spectator:
Until last weekend, the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh’s exclusive Diplomatic Quarter was colloquially known as the Princes’ Hotel. It was a luxurious retreat from the heat, where royals could engage in the kind of wheeling and dealing with the global business elite that had made them millionaires on the back of the 1970s oil boom. No deal could be brokered without paying a bribe to at least one prince. Last Saturday that era of boundless opportunity and total impunity came to a dramatic end. The VIP guests were booted out, the front doors were shuttered, and heavily armed security forces took up positions around the perimeter. A Saudi who lives nearby sent me a message about what he thought was an unfolding terrorist incident. That’s one way of describing the extraordinary, chaotic events. We have seen a mini-wave of terror orchestrated by the all-powerful 32-year-old heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been given day-to-day control of the kingdom’s affairs by his ailing father, King Salman, 81. Bin Salman’s ascent and methods now promise to change Saudi Arabia forever.
Despite his youth and inexperience, he has risen rapidly through the ranks, amassing previously unimaginable powers for a single royal. This, and his refusal to govern through consensus — as is customary — has caused deep resentment, jealousy and anger. His most prominent critics and rivals were therefore carted off on corruption charges to the Ritz-Carlton, turning it into the world’s most luxurious prison. Eleven senior princes were among them, as well as dozens of businessmen, and current and former ministers and provincial governors. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — the wealthiest Arab tycoon who holds significant stakes in Citigroup, Twitter and countless other companies — got caught up in the dragnet. At least he is still alive. Mansour bin Muqrin, deputy governor of the Asir region bordering Yemen, hailed from a rival branch of the ruling family sidelined after King Abdullah’s death in 2015. He boarded a helicopter with seven senior advisers, and amid speculation that he had instructed the pilot to head for a foreign country. Then his helicopter was blown from the sky, killing all on board. No official cause was given, fueling conspiracy theories. However baseless, the incident must have given further pause for thought in these febrile times to anyone then thinking of trying to flout the blanket travel ban. The country’s Attorney General says that this was only the first phase of mass arrests, and that trials would soon get under way. The front-page headline of the newspaper Al Jazirah a day after the purge encapsulated the new reality: ‘No place for traitors in the age of Salman.’ Welcome to the new Saudi Arabia.