Saudi power grab a gamble, but Trump is all in » Manila Bulletin News



By Agence France-Presse

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s aggressive power grab represents a huge gamble on the stability of his kingdom and its neighbors, but Donald Trump is not one to worry.

The Washington foreign policy establishment may be agog at the young leader’s “anti-corruption” purge of potential foes within the Saudi elite, but the US government barely flinched.

US President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip in May brought him to Riyadh, where he forged a close alliance with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

No one is quite sure whether MBS’ bold move will leave him as the uncontested leader of a more modern, open Saudi Arabia — or open the door to chaos, rebellion or a regional war.

But Trump is bringing the United States along for the ride.

“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” Trump tweeted on Monday, after a round of high-profile arrests.

Dozens of prominent Saudis, among them a dozen royals including billionaire tycoon Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, were arrested over the weekend and may now face trial.

The arrests were the first order by an anti-graft commission headed by Prince Mohammed himself, and many outside observers saw it as a politicized move against rivals within the elite.

Trump, who has tangled publicly with Al-Waleed in the past, had no such doubts, declaring: “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”

MBS’ move comes as he moves to accelerate his Vision 2030 project to modernize the conservative kingdom, but also as Riyadh takes a more aggressive stance in its wider region.

Saudi-led forces are waging a fierce war against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen and Riyadh has led its allies in a boycott of Gulf emirate Qatar, to growing US frustration.

In the wake of an alleged Huthi missile attack against Riyadh airport, the kingdom has accused Iran of “direct aggression” and threatened an equally direct though unspecified response.

And Riyadh was deeply involved in Lebanese premier Saad Hariri’s decision to resign his post and flee to the kingdom, precipitating a new political crisis in Beirut.

Some might see this string of crises as headaches the already tumultuous Middle East could do without, but Washington is still standing four square behind its ally.

“We continue to encourage Saudi authorities to pursue the prosecution of people they believe to have been corrupt officials,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“We expect them to do it in a fair and transparent manner.”

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