Country Risk

Arrests and removals of top officials strengthen Saudi Crown Prince’s succession, indicating shift from consensus-based rule

06 November 2017
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (centre) in April 2017. Source: Jonathan Ernst - Pool/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s succession in the near term is now almost certainly assured.
  • An anti-corruption drive within Saudi Arabia will probably extend to target high-profile Saudis with assets in construction, hydrocarbons, telecoms, and the media.
  • A public crackdown on corruption increases the likelihood of further austerity measures and economic restructuring.


On 4 November, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud issued a decree replacing prominent members of government and initiating a high-level anti-corruption drive.

Dozens of current and former ministers were arrested in the hours following an anti-corruption decree on 4 and 5 November, under the apparent orders of King Salman. At least 11 senior Al Saud princes were arrested, along with four ministers and dozens of former ministers on charges of misuse or embezzlement of state funds. Among those detained were the owners of the three main Saudi-owned TV networks, Al Waleed Bin Talal (Rotana), Waleed Al Ibrahim (MBC), and Saleh Kamel (ART).

According to IHS Markit monitoring of social media, private flights out of Jeddah airport were suspended, probably to prevent possible suspects and others from fleeing the country. The decree also included the creation of an anti-corruption committee, to be chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The King also replaced the commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, Mitab bin Abdullah Al Saud, a previous contender for the throne, who had made no clear declaration of allegiance to the current Crown Prince. The removal of Mitab bin Abdullah means that all three security services – the armed forces, the Ministry of Interior, and the National Guard, are now overseen by Mohammed bin Salman or his vetted appointees. The National Guard had become synonymous with the tribal units loyal to Mitab, who had inherited the role from his father after a 52-year tenure.

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