November 9, 2017

Redefining Saudi Arabia: Domestic and Regional Implications

Tthe image of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are projected on the Kingdom Tower during National Day ceremonies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 24. (Saudi Culture and Information Ministry via AP)

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making history in Saudi Arabia. Even as he proceeds with plans to diversify the Saudi economy and attract foreign investment, he has sent shock waves around the world with unprecedented moves that supporters claim will end a culture of corruption, but critics insist will simply consolidate power in his hands. AGSIW resident scholars and guest contributors examine recent events that are central to this redefinition of the kingdom and their implications for the Saudi state, its society and the region as a whole.


Media, Youth, and the New Saudi Arabia

By Kristin Smith Diwan

TThe stunning arrest of dozens of prominent princes, ministers, and businessmen once thought untouchable, and indications of a broadening campaign against corruption, raise fundamental questions about the future direction of Saudi Arabia. The debate on whether the current round of arrests is a genuine campaign against corruption or a power grab by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman misses the fundamental point: The Saudi state is being remade before our eyes. While not inevitable, the timing of this transformation does make logical sense. Saudi Arabia is at an inflection point, where the old rules of powersharing, wealth distribution, and patrimonial management of the public will no longer work.
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Hariri Resignation Signals Intensified Saudi-Iranian Rivalry in Lebanon

By Hussein Ibish

The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri almost certainly signals the determination of Saudi Arabia and its allies to intensify their regional confrontation with Iran and its clients in Lebanon and beyond. It’s not just that Hariri is a long-standing and loyal ally of Saudi Arabia, and, indeed, a dual citizen of the two countries. In case there was any doubt about its regional meaning, his resignation was made on video from Saudi Arabia, which he was and still is visiting, and amounted to a tirade against Iranian interference in Lebanese and Arab affairs.
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The Saudi Cultural Revolution

By Jean-François Seznec

The arrests of 11 princes and numerous prominent political and business personalities in Saudi Arabia this week might best be described as a frontal attack on the existing order of business among Saudi elites. The princes, politicians, and merchants caught in the net have been accused of corruption. Of course, accusations of corruption are not news to most Saudis. It seems everyone in the kingdom knew that in certain important sectors, such as security and military affairs, it was normal business practice for contracts to go to companies directly or indirectly controlled by royal family members, who would reap very large profits from them. The famous consensus building among senior princes for which previous monarchs were well known and often admired was built on the basis that the spoils of oil could be shared between various royal clans as the price of their allegiance to the leader.
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Mohammed bin Salman’s Plan to Moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia

By Annelle R. Sheline

On October 24, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) announced that his country would “return to moderate Islam.” In an interview with The Guardian, he attributed Saudi Arabia’s adoption of hard-line Sunni Wahhabism to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, an event that in his words, Saudi leaders “didn’t know how to handle.” The statements by MbS elicited considerable commentary because the kingdom’s global promotion of Wahhabism is seen as a significant factor in the adoption of extremist interpretations of Islam. The prospect that Saudi Arabia would promote moderate Islam raises hopes that extremism could decline if it lost a major source of ideological inspiration and funding.
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Qatar Crisis Slips Down Saudi Priority List

By David B. Roberts

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is a busy man. He is brusquely centralizing power in Saudi Arabia under his aegis like no one before him. This has included the recent detention of some of the most senior Saudi princes on corruption charges. Such a move is unprecedented in Saudi history and, indeed, it is hard to point to any such similarly broad arrest of serving and former royals or their equivalents, ministers, and business leaders in any country in recent history.
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Rising Stakes in Saudi Arabia’s Transformation

November 7, 2017

The transformation underway in Saudi Arabia continues to send regular shockwaves through business and diplomatic circles. After whirlwind announcements on women driving and the opening of the kingdom to foreign investors in new megaprojects, a more domestically focused message is emerging. In a series of short reactions, AGSIW Senior Resident Scholars Hussein Ibish, Kristin Smith Diwan, and Karen E. Young, as well as Board Member F. Gregory Gause, III offer their assessments of the multidimensional implications of these developments.
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The Saudi Crown Prince Is Gambling Everything on Three Major Experiments

By Hussein Ibish

Call it shock and awe. Call it a purge. Call it a clean sweep. However it’s characterized, the mass arrest of some of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent royals, administrators, and tycoons last weekend has completely upended both the structure of the Saudi elite and the country’s way of doing business. It’s not exactly the Night of the Long Knives, as the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in which the detainees are being held is hardly a nightmarish gulag. But it is the latest installment in an astonishingly rapid series of upheavals whereby all power is being concentrated in the hands of elderly King Salman and his 32-year-old son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MbS.
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