Saudi Arabia arrested 11 princes who were protesting the government’s recent decision to stop paying their utility bills.
Riyadh implemented a mild austerity plan at the start of the year that also saw the elimination of other state subsidies such as those for gas as well as the introduction of a 5% sales tax on most goods and services, though not without ordering monthly payouts to civil servants and soldiers throughout the year in order to help offset the costs for these classes. While a controversial move, this policy aligns with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s ambitious “Vision 2030” strategy that seeks to eventually transition the energy-exporting-dependent monarchy to a “normal” economy within the next decade via a complete restructuring aided by Chinese investments and the NEOM future city project.
The removal of some Saudi subsidies to the royal family is an inextricable part of “Vision 2030’s” reforms to increase what had up until this point been declining government revenue over the past few years due to the expensive War on Yemen and consistently low oil prices, and the Kingdom’s no-nonsense attitude towards any form of protest predetermined that the 11 princes were bound to fail in their immediate goal. This raises the question of why they decided to protest in the first place, which might be answered by recalling the country’s “deep state” civil war that Mohammed Bin Salman initiated late last year after jailing hundreds of wealthy royals on alleged corruption charges.
The argument can be made that the princes’ stunt was deliberately intended to fail in order to provoke a royal rebellion against the Crown Prince, but if that was the case, then not only did it totally fail in that regard, but it also risks backfiring by further decreasing the royals’ already low appeal among the populace. Many Saudis admire Mohammed Bin Salman because he’s not afraid to take on the despised royal family, and jailing the 11 protesting princes proves, like the country’s attorney general declared, that “no one is above the law”.
Not only that, but it seemingly confirms the widespread perception that the royal family is arrogant and greedy to the point of being triggered to knowingly break the law and end up in jail just because the government stopped the utility payments of these outrageously wealthy individuals who many believe should be able to foot their own bills given how much money they’re supposedly raking in at the public’s expense already. Far from discrediting Mohammed Bin Salman, his government’s arrest of these 11 princes actually makes him more likeable in the eyes of his people, though that’s not to say that his Kingdom’s Western allies approve, since some of them might condemn him for alleged “human rights violations” because of this.
Nevertheless, all that matters to the Crown Prince is preserving his power and ensuring that he’s made the next Saudi King, so he doesn’t care at this point what “Human Rights Watch” or the State Department say so long as he ultimately emerges successful in his own “Game of Thrones”, which he evidently seems poised to do.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: Oriental Review