Saudi Arabia's 'Revolutionary' Crown Prince May Be Hiding On His Yacht

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In his quest to consolidate his powers in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia's young crown prince took several reckless steps and, it appears, some enemies along the way.

Saudi

Ever since Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, assumed his role as the crown prince in June 2017, he has been the subject and, in some instances, the perpetrator, of many controversies -- the latest being the fact that he has allegedly gone into hiding on his superyacht in Jeddah.

In fact, his elevation to the role of crown prince was a huge scandal itself as it went against the decades-long pattern of accession in the Saudi royal family.

The crown in the Saudi royal family had always moved down a line of brothers born to the kingdom's founder King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who died in 1953. MBS is the first heir to the throne who won’t be a direct descendant of Ibn Saud since he is the son of the current monarch, King Salman.

The irregularities around MBS' new role reportedly drew the ire of many members of the Saudi royal family. However, the crown prince quelled any or all dissent, starting September when he detained more than 20 influential clerics and intellectuals, all of whom were critical of his rule. In November, he  launched an even bigger crackdown on powerful Saudi figures, including, politicians, businessmen and members of his own family, including one of the world's richest men, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

It is also important to note here that bin Talal was also ousted from his position as chief of the National Guard, which was the only security service that did not fall under the crown prince's control.

It was largely touted as an anti-corruption drive. But the Saudi government never really released any details of the trials, if any were ever held, to prove how exactly the mass arrests helped crack down on the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the detainees. There was no transparency, whatsoever. The only information publicly available is that Riyadh netted over $106 billion in settlement deals with at least 56 detainees.

The crackdown, therefore, came across more as an attempt to solidify MBS' ever-growing powers, than anything else.

Arresting extended family members, though, isn't the only tactic MBS has reportedly used to consolidate his rule.

In March, NBC News interviewed at least 14 current and former senior U.S. officials and found Prince Mohammed bin Salman has kept his mother from seeing his father, King Salman, for more than two years "because he was concerned that she opposed his plans for a power grab ... and might use her influence with the king to prevent it."

Upon assuming his new post in 2017, MBS also introduced sweeping austerity measures in the kingdom. In January, he doubled petrol prices and introduced a value-added tax to try to tackle a 195 billion riyal ($52 billion) budget deficit.

Many criticized the young leader for his economic reforms while himself engaging in extravagant, impulse purchases abroad. But he brushed aside all criticism in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview, saying, "I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela."

Mohammed bin Salman is also credited for bringing about historical social reforms, such as the lifting of the ban on women drivers and easing restrictions on the entertainment industry, such as allowing cinemas into the country again and letting men and women attend concerts together.

The changes reportedly drew the ire of many prominent religious clerics but the crown prince continued, nevertheless.

MBS championed the introduction of "moderate Islam" drive in the ultraconservative Islamic kingdom. In fact, many, including U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, branded him a "revolutionary," rather prematurely. How so?

Even the progressive reforms turned out to be part of MBS' larger economic strategy, known as "Vision 2030," to wean Saudi Arabia off of oil money.

After all, why would Western investors want to do business with a country that wouldn't let its women drive a car?

 

The crown prince more or less implemented similar recklessness in international policies as well, the most prominent example in this regard is the invasion of Yemen.

The deadly conflict began in March 2015, at least two years before MBS became crown prince, but he remains its main architect.

As defense minister, bin Salman directed a Saudi-led coalition to wage war against suspected Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.

The fighting has killed or injured over 16,000 civilians and more than 22 million are in need of humanitarian aid. Of them eight million people are teetering on the brink of famine, 500,000 of them are children who are fighting for their lives.

However, when MBS was asked about the invasion, in his "60 Minutes" exchange, he put the blame Iran-backed militias -- despite the fact that Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have caused widespread devastation and loss of human life in Yemen.

Granted, Saudi Arabia has also provided billions in aid to Yemen. But the provision of financial assistance does not legitimize the bombing of civilians, which is still ongoing.

International human rights organizations have continued to denounce MBS' atrocities in Yemen. So far, there has not been even a single instance where MBS expressed any remorse for causing what has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of 2018.

In fact, in his "60 Minutes" interview, MBS vowed to fight back with even more force and threatened to follow suit if Iran attempted to acquire nuclear weapons.

“Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

In his quest to consolidate his powers in the kingdom, the young crown prince took drastic steps and, it appears, some enemies along the way, especially in his own family.

Citing Bruce Riedel, the director of the Brookings Institution's Intelligence Project, Business Insider reported the Prince Mohammed has gone out of the public eye, fearing for his safety, to live on his $550 million yacht, "Serence," which he infamously bought in 2015.

"Fearing for his security, the crown prince is said to spend many nights on his half-billion-dollar yacht moored in Jeddah," writes Riedel.

The Saudi government has not released a statement on Riedel's claims but the crown prince is scheduled to pay a two-day visit to the State of Kuwait late in September.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

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