Five years since the Ritz-Carlton Arrests: What has it brought?

Samar Faisal- Saudi Journalist

Five years since the Saudi night of the long knives, the war in Yemen still has not ended. The Lebanese political scene cannot be reduced to an overthrow of Hariri. The alleged corruption continues. And Qatar is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup …

More than five years have passed since Lebanon and the world watched in shock as Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address from the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. 

Shortly after the speech, on November 4, 2017, it became clear that Hariri was subjected to verbal and physical force in detention, making him publicly resign before international pressure on Saudi authorities could leverage his release.

Ever since that day, the public eye has closely followed what was then introduced as Mohamed bin Salman’s “war on corruption.” 

Known by his initials MBS, the Saudi Crown Prince and seventh son of King Salman is the de facto ruler of the desert kingdom. His rise to power is closely connected with the night of the long knives in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in November five years ago.

At the time of his rise, most international media were fascinated by the young prince, especially since prior to the Ritz-Carlton events, he had arrested several religious leaders. He claimed this was a purge against puritans imposing Islamic restrictions on Saudi society, which he aspired to open up.

Those international observers overlooked an uncomfortable fact about the September arrest campaign, which is that it also targeted many Saudi intellectuals who today remain behind bars. Some of them have still not been tried, while others have been retried behind closed doors and seen their prison terms extended. 

In the latter group is Saudi writer and businessman Jamil Farsi, presumably arrested for opposing the privatization of Saudi Aramco. Farsi used to be a close friend of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated in Istanbul. 

Looking back at the many important dates of recent Saudi history: arrests, killings, even the sudden overthrow of the powerful former Crown Prince and Minister of Interior Mohamad bin Nayef, organizer a violent campaign of arrests and executions targeting Saudi Shiites, November 4, 2017 remains the most unforgettable day in recent Saudi memory. 

For that is the day that saw the toppling of numerous Saudi prominent political figures, the same day MBS assumed the Mandate of the Covenant – that is, became crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Among the many people arrested on corruption charges that day were at least three sons of the late King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz. Two of them were recently spotted outside prison.

However, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the former Governor of Riyadh and MBS’s archenemy, remains in captivity. Reports about the state of his health and imprisonment have emerged in the past five years, indicating he was subjected to severe torture and even shot in one shoulder. 

According to the latest information, he has been sentenced to 17 years in prison. Note that this is based on leaked data.  Officially, there has been no news about his fate or that of any other high-profile detainees.

The Ritz-Carlton arrests targeted a large part of the Al-Saud family and their associates, mostly wealthy and influential businessmen, under the slogan of “the war against corruption.”

In reality, however, the circumstances of the arrests and the violence and torture accompanying them revealed that the campaign was also way for MBS to take revenge and clear his way to the throne. This becomes even clearer when we look at the abuses and exceptions made by and for those close to the king, that is, the Salmani faction. The campaigns against corruption have enabled the birth of a new wealthy class.

Testing the waters

Observing the behavior of MBS, it is not hard to conclude that he tests the waters by taking small steps to see society’s reaction before taking any major steps. 

For instance, prior to the Ritz-Carlton arrests, in April 2017, MBS accused then Minister of State for Civil Service Khaled Al-Araj of corruption. He found that the Saudi people, government ministers, and even his political opponents among other Saudi princes did not move a finger when Al-Araj was removed from his post.

Perhaps it is laughable and rather hollow that the charges against Al-Araj were based on him giving his son a government job with a salary of 21,000 Saudi riyal ($5,600) – assuming that information is correct. But who was to judge Al-Araj? King Salman or his son!

In the same vein, and for similar reasons, we have seen recent news reports about the arrest of the dean of the King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, one of the country’s leading universities.

So, what has been achieved since the Ritz-Carlton incident five years ago? Today, more than seven years have passed since Saudi Arabia started its war on Yemen, and more than five have passed since MBS imposed a new political hegemony at home and in other Arab countries such as Lebanon. 

There has been his anti-corruption campaign, the arrest of religious figures and intellectuals, and the arrest and torture of male and female political activists. There have been years of disagreement with countries such as Qatar and Turkey, and an attempt to create a new Saudi image and identity. 

Meanwhile, the war in Yemen still has not ended. The Lebanese political scene cannot be reduced to an overthrow of Hariri. The alleged corruption continues. And Qatar is now hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with Saudi Arabia opening its borders for attendees to watch the football feast through Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, and not the Saudi BeoutQ channel.  

لتصلكم نشرة درج الى بريدكم الالكتروني