Saudi Prince Consolidates Power and Supports Liberal Youth’s Ideals
Saturday’s arrest of some of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men, including royals, ministers, and clerics, represented a shift towards a more progressive, liberal society. The arrests are Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s most recent move to further consolidate power, while also garner support from Saudi Arabia’s youth.
In previous months, Prince Mohammed has taken away the right to arrest from the religious police, and has granted more rights for women, including the right to drive and the ability to go to movies and to play a more visible role in public life and entertainment.
Jamal Kashoggi, a prominent Saudi columnist, applauded the campaign, but warned that Prince Mohammed is “imposing very selective justice.”
“The crackdown on even the most constructive criticism -- the demand for complete loyalty with a significant ‘or else’- - remains a serious challenge to the crown prince’s desire to be seen as a modern, enlightened leader.”
After the series of arrests, Prince Mohammed not only controls Saudi Arabia’s three main security forces, but also begins to take increased control over the religious establishment. In an NPR interview, Deborah Amos, who covers Saudi Arabia for NPR, said that the target of the arrests was the business community, but that “one arrest doesn't fit the pattern, and that's the head of Saudi Arabia's national guard. And so what it means now is that this crown prince is in charge of all of Saudi Arabia's security departments.” In addition to holding power over other parts of government, Prince Mohammed has also ceased conferring within the royal family to make decisions.
Although his views and actions appear to be progressive— he supports a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and traditions and peoples,” it is dangerous for all of the power to be in his hands.
Some groups expressed wishes that changes had occurred through a more bottom-up, democratic movement, but they contend that any change is better than none. Even if the change is only domestic, and implemented through the will of monarchy, it’s better to progress than to remain stagnant.
Prince Mohammed seems to genuinely be working for the people. He said that “seventy per cent of [the Saudi] population is under 30, and we won’t allow the 30 per cent to hold them back,” a statement that explains his decision to support the views of youth, as their support could significantly bolster his power.
However, a possible repercussion of driving away conservatives is that pushing them too far may drive the most extreme underground. Once underground, the extremists may be drawn to violence, a fear voiced by one cleric who works in Riyadh. This type of development of extremism can be seen in 1979, when extremists took control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, because they felt the royal family wasn’t Islamic enough. More recently, similar reasons have driven Saudis to join the Islamic State.
While Saudi Arabia may not be moving toward a more democratic nation, it’s encouraging that Prince Mohammed appears to be using power to promote the rights of the people. However, he will need to find a balance with the conservatives to avoid promoting extremism and violence if he hopes to successfully modernize the country.