- Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
- Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely seen as the driving force behind Saudi Arabia’ landmark anti-corruption purge. He’s consolidating power in a way Saudi Arabia hasn’t seen in decades. Crown Prince Mohammed now effectively controls the three pillars of Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus – the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the National Guard.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely seen as the driving force behind this weekend’s landmark anti-corruption purge that landed several of the kingdom’s government and business leaders in jail.
Crown Prince Mohammed looks to be the big winner from the shakeup, as he consolidates power in a way Saudi Arabia hasn’t seen in decades.
“It is the coup de grâce of the old system,” Chas W. Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told The New York Times. “Gone. All power has now been concentrated in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman.”
With the latest move, Crown Prince Mohammed now effectively controls the three pillars of Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus – the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the National Guard.
The Saudi Ministry of Defense oversees the kingdom’s armed forces, while the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for domestic national security. The National Guard oversees the protection of the Saudi royal family, as well as important religious, oil, and gas sites.
Traditionally, these institutions have been run by separate branches of the royal family, as a means of spreading influence and curbing personal power within the Saudi government. The system was put in place by Saudi Arabia’s founder Ibn Saud eight decades ago, according to The Times.
“It ended decades of sometimes violent infighting and has helped preserve family unity ever since,” The Times reported in 2015, when Prince Mohammed first became Deputy Crown Prince. The article highlights how the three security ministries have been kept separate.
‘Mohammed bin Salman wants to destroy the game of checks and balances’
That may all change now, as Crown Prince Mohammed takes over those three crucial posts.
“Mohammed bin Salman wants to destroy the game of checks and balances that had characterized Saudi Arabia over the past few decades,” Stéphane Lacroix, an expert on Saudi Arabia and a professor of political science at France’s Sciences Po, told The Washington Post.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s rise within the Saudi government has been quick. He took over as Defense Minister as a 29-year-old in 2015 when his father, the current King Salman, ascended to the throne.
King Salman had previously been Defense Minister and it is common for security postings to pass from father to son, which helped keep the various branches of the royal family in power.
Earlier this year, in June, Mohammed was named Crown Prince, pushing out Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and setting himself up as the heir to the throne. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had served as minister of interior, a post he inherited from his father.
This weekend’s purge saw the arrest of Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, who took the position from his father, King Abdullah. Mutaib was considered a potential rival for the Saudi throne, although he never entered the line of succession.
Prince Miteb, Lacroix said, “was important because he was the only prince who remained inside the government who could potentially oppose MBS,” using a common nickname for Prince Mohammed.
By removing Prince Miteb as leader of the National Guard, Prince Mohammed “finished the job of excluding all the competing royal factions,” he said.