News coverage has so far omitted the Machiavellian nature of the arrests. It’s standard cynicism to remark that it’s about power, not corruption. But this is true. This is a purge. By the standards of the West, Saudi Arabia is corrupt. But by the norms of a tribal society, it is not. To pay off the headman of the tribe is perfectly normal. Some of the arrested run their own foreign policies, sponsoring terror. With specific reference to Saudi, this was discussed in General Mattis; Iran continues to sponsor terrorism; Iran, Iran, Iran. Quoting,
Only after approximations of western attitudes are accepted by the core of Saudi society will there even be the possibility of reform of the ulama itself. And of the Wahhabi madrassa system, which is funded on a more open level.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been tasked by King Salman with the radical reformation of Saudi society. To recreate Saudi in the mold of a national state, the tribal structure must be co- opted or suppressed. Previous statements by Prince Salman have indicated confidence that the existing tribal structure can be co-opted for this purpose.
If the arrested were thought to be an asset to this program of radical change, the purge would not have happened. But with the announcement on 9/27 that Saudi women will be allowed to drive, those arrested, formerly an asset, became a problem. What is the connection?
Saudi society is perhaps the most severely patriarchal extant. Women behind the wheel as coup material sounds like a joke. But it’s serious business, striking at the core of male hegemony, just like the price of gas. Much like the sad fate of the Knights Templars on Friday the 13th, it suggests whispers of a coup struck down before the event.
The effort of the Salmans, King and Prince, to create a more level, civil, modern society is laudable. But the driving forces have not the apparency of China’s anti-corruption campaign. In Saudi, the definition of corruption itself has just changed, in service of the effort by the sitting government to drive revolution from the top down to the masses.
Intelligence establishments with SIGINT capability must now be pondering: If preparation for a coup is seen, whose side to take?
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