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Politics

Saudi crown prince shows his iron fist in risky power play

David Ignatius on

The roster of those arrested includes billionaire tycoons, such as Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, head of Kingdom Holding Co. and one of the most prominent Saudi global investors; Saleh Kamal and Waleed al-Ibrahim, co-founders of Middle East Broadcasting Corp., the region's first satellite channel; and Adel Fakieh, the minister of economy and planning, who until the putsch was one of MBS' key lieutenants in developing his reform program.

MBS has now shattered the leadership circle of the previous king, Abdullah, who died in 2015. In addition to Prince Miteb, MBS arrested Prince Turki bin Abdullah, another prominent son and former governor of Riyadh. Also arrested was Khaled al-Tuwaijiri, who as chief of Abdullah's royal court was a virtual prime minister. In June, MBS toppled the previous crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, clearing the way for him to eventually succeed his 81-year-old father, King Salman.

While accompanied by the rhetoric of reform, this weekend's purge resembles the approach of authoritarian regimes such as China. President Xi Jinping has used a similar anti-corruption theme to replace a generation of party and military leaders and to alter the collective leadership style adopted by recent Chinese rulers.

MBS is emboldened by strong support from President Trump and his inner circle, who see him as a kindred disrupter of the status quo -- at once a wealthy tycoon and a populist insurgent. It was probably no accident that last week, Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.

MBS would probably be flattered to be described as a Saudi Trump. But Xi and his anti-corruption power play may be the real role model.

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David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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