Saudi affair will affect India, world

On the face of it, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's detention of some 500 people on corruption charges is aimed at cleaning up the system in the desert kingdom. Among those detained are 11 princes, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men, as well as Mutaib bin Abdullah, chief of the all-powerful National Guard. Scores of senior officials and ministers have been detained, too. Although the Palace has presented the arrests as a 'crackdown on corruption,' it is widely believed that this is yet another move by the Crown Prince to remove rival power centres and consolidate his control over power. In June, King Salman named his 32-year-old son, Prince Mohammed, as his successor, replacing his nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince. Since then, Prince Mohammed has been marginalising potential contenders to the throne. The mass detention of the kingdom's richest and most powerful should be seen in this context.

Saudi Arabia is notorious for the corrupt excesses of its wealthy royals. The crackdown on corruption has, therefore, been widely welcomed by the Saudi masses. But while the detentions would cement the Crown Prince's support among the kingdom's youth, this comes at a huge cost. The crackdown is selective and could encourage those being sidelined to gang up against the Crown Prince, even conspire to oust him. Analysts are not ruling out the possibility of a coup in the event of King Salman's death. Importantly, the detention of business leaders has thrown the economy into turmoil; the confidence of foreign investors in the Saudi economy has been shaken. 'Saudi Vision 2030,' a plan involving some 80 projects that Prince Mohammed put forward to reduce the Saudi economy's dependence on oil could be in jeopardy. The impact of these developments on global oil prices will not be small; the Indian economy can be expected to be hit as well.

Last week, Prince Mohammed clipped the wings of the Saudi religious police. He has also lifted the ban on Saudi women driving. While these reforms are welcome, the Crown Prince is making multiple enemies and opening up far too many fronts. He has also triggered regional instability. The Saudi Arabia-initiated Sunni versus Shia civil war in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, and the Saudi-led boycott and attempt to isolate Qatar are showing no signs of winding down. The Crown Prince is also said to have joined hands with US President Donald Trump to isolate Iran again. The implications of the Crown Prince's reckless moves are likely to be felt globally. He is biting off more than he can chew, and endangering West Asian as well as global stability.

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