What the Saudi Purge Means for the Kingdom, and America https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/politics-current-affairs/2017/11/what-the-saudi-purge-means-for-the-kingdom-and-america/

November 7, 2017 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

This past weekend, Riyadh announced the arrest of dozens of high-ranking officials and prominent businessmen, including eleven princes—all of whom are cousins of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now second in power only to his father, King Salman. Elliott Abrams connects the move to a generational shift: like every Saudi monarch since 1953, Salman is a son of the kingdom’s founder ibn Saud; after Salman’s death, the crown will pass, for the first time, to Mohammed, one of ibn Saud’s grandsons. Abrams sees in the arrests an attempt to centralize powers that are now distributed over hundreds of royal cousins, and considers the implications.

Is this centralization of power a good thing for the United States, or even for Saudi Arabia? That question will best be answered retrospectively, in about a decade. What’s clear now, though, is that Crown Prince Mohammed has announced ambitious economic and social changes, from allowing women to drive and mix with men in sports stadiums, to selling off a part of the kingdom’s key asset, the Aramco oil company, to challenging the ideology of the Wahhabi clerics. He appears to believe that such moves require sheer power, both to overcome resistance and to move the kingdom’s poorly educated and youthful population (roughly half are under the age of twenty-five) of 33 million into the 21st century.

Crown Prince Mohammed has spoken of a more modern Saudi Arabia, at least when it comes to the role of religion and the rights of women. Last month he called for “a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.” But political liberalization is not in the cards. Indeed, a serious crackdown has been under way for the last two years, including lengthy prison terms for tweets that criticized the Saudi authorities. The message from the palace is clear: get on board or pay the price. That message applies not only to commoners, but to the entire royal family.

Few were in doubt about Crown Prince Mohammed’s ambition. Now there will be equal certainty about his determination.

Read more on New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opinion/crown-prince-saudi-arabia.html