Saudi officials have arrested nearly a dozen princes amid the oil-rich kingdom’s purported anti-graft campaign, which is considered the biggest purge of political dissidents and the elite in the country’s modern history.
Members of the Saudi Arabian Royal Guard Regiment arrested 11 princes outside the Royal Palace in Riyadh on Saturday as they were protesting against a decision to cut off their privileges, Arabic-language Sabq online newspaper reported.
Informed sources, requesting anonymity, said the princes were demanding the cancellation of a royal order, which calls for the suspension of payment for the costs of electricity and water used by princes.
The sources added that the arrested princes had been transferred to al-Ha’ir Prison, located approximately 25 miles south of Riyadh, where they are awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, four poets have been sentenced to jail over writing poems in criticism of senior members of the ruling al-Saud regime, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
According to a report published by Arabic-language Arabi 21 online newspaper, Abdullah Atqan al-Salami and Mohammed Eid al-Hawaiti were sentenced each to ten years in jail, while Manif al-Munkara and Sultan al-Shibani al-Atibi were handed down five-year jail terms.
The four poets got arrested last October as they were attending a wedding ceremony in northern Saudi Arabia, and reading their poems aloud.
Dozens of princes, ministers and former ministers were detained in late December on the order of Saudi Arabia’s so-called Anti-Corruption Committee headed by the Crown Prince, in a crackdown, which is widely believed to be aimed at consolidating his power.
The detained individuals are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and misappropriation of public funds for personal benefits.
Prince al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, the chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding Company, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, the founder of Al Tayyar Travel Group, and Amr al-Dabbagh, the chairman of builder Red Sea International, are among the top business executives detained during the purge.
Political analysts say Saudi King Salman plans to relinquish power in favor of his son who is pursuing a self-promotion campaign under the cover of tackling high-level corruption.
Pundits believe the targeting of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing elite represents a shift from family rule to a more authoritarian style of governance based on a single man.
Riyadh has taken on more aggressive policies since Bin Salman’s promotion to the position of defense minister and deputy crown prince in 2015, and later to the position of crown prince.
The kingdom is currently struggling with plummeting oil prices as the Al Saud regime also faces criticism over its deadly military campaign against neighboring Yemen, which it launched in March 2015.
Many also see Riyadh’s policies as a major cause of the crises in the region, especially in Syria.