Saudi Arabia: Consolidating power

Dozens of arrests in Saudi Arabia including of several royal princes, allegedly for corruption, seem designed to consolidate still further the grip on power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A quick initial take on the overnight news from Riyadh.

It looks like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has been taking lessons from Xi Jinping!

There is, of course, no shortage of people he could go after for corruption. Indeed, one could argue that the majority at least of members of the House of Saud benefit from money siphoned off untransparently from Aramco which many would claim is a corrupt practice.

However, the dismissal and arrest of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah is particularly interesting and may well be indicative. First, Prince Miteb was widely seen as a potential king one day; second he is the last son of former King Abdullah (a rival branch of the House of Saud) who was still occupying a high-ranking position; third, his dismissal gives MBS more or less total control of the military and security forces (and I am betting, though do not know for sure at this stage, that the dismissed navy commander was not an MBS loyalist either).

There may also have been some pre-warning of this coming to MBS's ally in Abu Dhabi Crown Prince (and de facto ruler) Mohammad bin Zayed (MBZ). The speed with which UAE came out in support suggests prior knowledge. This points to a further deepening of MBS/MBZ relationship generally which does not bode well for Qatar (where they were the prime movers behind the ongoing stand-off) in particular and intra-GCC relations generally.

The bottom line politically: another stage in the de facto coup by the Salman branch of the al Saud, again begging the question of how long it will be before King Salman abdicates in favour of his son.

As for market implications, this should increase the risk premium for Saudi assets. Look for Saudi bonds/CDS to reflect this in the coming days. This may also impact investors’ assessment of the Aramco IPO. Market sources suggest that the seizure of Prince al-Waleed is significant, given he has a much higher international profile than other royals. Investors will take note of this.

Alastair Newton

Comments (2)
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Thanks, Jean. I did not attend the jamboree where the announcement was made myself but, when I was in the region last week, I spoke with several people who did. The so-called 'Davos in the desert' reportedly lacked for nothing when it came to senior investor/business participation and slickness of the presentations. But I am assured that it all seemed more aspirational than substantial, ie in common with Vision2030, as originally conceived, grandiose aims with very little indication of how to deliver.



Saw this recently Saudi Arabia Plans $500 Billion Mega City
What'd You Miss?
October 24th, 2017, 6:02 PM EDT
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans to build a new city on the Red Sea coast, promising a lifestyle not available in today’s Saudi Arabia as he seeks to remake the kingdom in a time of dwindling resources. Bloomberg's John Fraher has more on "What'd You Miss?" (Source: Bloomberg)