Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

The Guardian view on Saudi Arabia: a slow-motion coup

The Guardian- There are legitimate questions about whether you can sweep out the Augean stables if you don’t have clean hands

The slow-motion coup in Saudi Arabia is changing nothing – and everything – in the desert kingdom. An unprecedented series of arrests this weekend has put princes, former ministers and tycoons behind the gilded bars of a five star hotel. By precipitating the resignation of the Lebanese prime minister, a new front against long-time rival Iran was opened up just as an old one became inflamed by rocket fire. Yet the ruler of the repressive desert state remains the aged and ailing King Salman. His legitimacy derives from his lineage: he is a son of the nation’s founder, and traditionally the post of king passes from brother to brother in order of age. In an absolute monarchy, the king’s word is final. Yet it is by deed that power is known. By that measure, there’s only one person running Saudi Arabia: crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. If he ascends to the throne, the 33-year-old will have broken the grip of the older Sauds over the state the family’s patriarch founded.

The crown prince, known as MbS, is a young, inexperienced, and belligerent man. His misguided foreign policy, which has backfired spectacularly in Yemen, Syria and Qatar, is testament to hasty and rash decision-making. He now seeks to disturb the delicate balance of forces in Lebanon. MbS’s enemies, as with Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed, are the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. His best friend internationally appears to be US president Donald Trump, who took time out of his tour of Asia to tweet approvingly of MbS’s actions and, in passing, lobby to secure a US listing of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company. But MbS has proved cunning and ruthless – moving to silence those who disagree with him in the clergy and in the sliver of space afforded to Saudi civil society. At the same time as depriving citizens of civil rights, MbS afforded female drivers the right to drive. The crown prince gives a little, but takes a lot.

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