The world is still coming to terms with Saturday’s events in Riyadh and what the political, economic, and social ramifications will be for the Middle East, and the rest of the world. The Saudi Arabian political purge has so far had a greater impact than the failed Houthi missile strike on Riyadh or the Lebanese PM’s resignation. Today oil prices hit a fresh two year high, the upward surge stemming from uncertainty about what is happening in Riyadh. There are questions, and concerns about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed’s intentions following a weekend that saw him consolidate and expand his control over the Saudi government. With the approval and support of his father King Salman, the Crown Prince’s newly unveiled anti-corruption committee swooped down on Riyadh, arresting, and detaining scores of princes, ministers, and high ranking government officials. The men being held now represent a cross section of Saudi Arabia’s elite including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s richest Arab, who was one of those arrested on corruption charges.
MbS, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan is known, has pushed to initiate political and social reforms throughout the kingdom. Those moves were resisted by many in the Saudi Royal Family and government. These anti-corruption arrests come as part of an ambitious powerplay by MbS to remove the men most stubbornly resisting reform. In the process, MbS is paving the way for the time when he will succeed his father on the throne. Events this weekend have led many to wonder if King Salman intends to abdicate in the near future. He has virtually handed executive power to MbS already and given his blessing for his son to launch a complete rebuilding of the governance system in Saudi Arabia.
The failed Houthi missile attack on Riyadh has not been lost in the shuffle. The Saudis have placed blame for the attack squarely on Iran’s shoulders. The Saudis denounced the attack and labeled it a potential ‘act of war,’ pointing to Tehran’s oversight and control of the Houthis. Even though Iran denies it, the Houthi rebels are an Iranian proxy. The possibility that they launched the missile on their own, not on orders from Tehran, is minimal. The Saudis see the Iranian fingerprints on the attack clearly.
In Yemen, the war between the Saudi-led coalition, and Iranian supported Houthi rebels continues on with no end in sight. The conflict has been an occasional flashpoint, most notably when Houthi anti-ship missile strikes were launched against United States warships operating off the Yemeni coast last year. For the most part, the conflict ebbs and flows at regular intervals, serving a purpose as an arena in the great game being played out by Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance. How Saturday’s events will affect the Saudi-Iran competition, Yemen, the Qatari crisis, and other geopolitical endeavors of the kingdom remain to be seen. The region, and the world will not have to wait very long to find out though.