In a style of government which is unique to the kingdom, they announced the arrests first and then they announced the creation of the committee which had ordered them. This is how the young prince acts, a man who some Middle East experts persist in referring to as a Western-style reformer. He acts with total disregard to habeas corpus, due process and the rule of law. In his eyes, those arrested are guilty before they are proven guilty.
This committee is McCarthyite in its powers and scope. The first thing to note in the decree which set it up, is that it puts itself above and beyond the law. The decree states that the committee (which bin Salman chairs) is “exempt from laws, regulations, instructions, orders and decisions while the committee shall perform the following tasks: … the investigation issuance of arrest warrants, travel ban, disclosure and freezing of accounts and portfolios, tracking of funds, assets, and preventing their remittance or transfer by persons and entities who ever they might be. The committee has the right to take any precautionary measures it sees, until they are referred to the investigating authorities or judicial bodies.”
In other words, the prince can do anything he likes to anyone, seizing their assets in and outside the kingdom. Let’s just remind ourselves of what he now controls. The prince heads all three of Saudi Arabia’s armies; he heads Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company; he heads the committee in charge of all economic affairs which is just about to launch the biggest privatisation the kingdom has seen; and he now controls all of Saudi’s media chains.
This was apparent from the list of businessmen arrested. ART, MBC and Rotana Media group dominate the Arab media. These Saudi media corporations account for most of what is put out on air in the Middle East, apart from the news output of Qatari-owned Al Jazeera.
Their respective owners, Saleh Kamel, Walid al-Ibrahim and Prince Waleed bin Talal are behind bars. Presumably too their wealth has been confiscated. Forbes prices bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Corporation, at $18bn. He owns sizeable shares in numerous companies, including Newscorp, Citigroup, 21st Century Fox and Twitter. These shares too are under new management. The head of STC, the biggest mobile operator in Saudi, was also arrested.
If previous moves bin Salman took constituted a power grab, Saturday’s moves were a wealth grab.
Quite apart from the political dangers of stripping so many very rich Saudis of their wealth, this is a bizarre way to encourage foreigners to invest in the kingdom.