Is the Saudi Purge Really About Corruption?

Lessons From China

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative Conference in Riyadh, October 2017. Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters

Earlier this month, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) dramatically arrested 11 princes and dozens of other wealthy businessmen and high officials under the guise of fighting corruption, a move that has provoked a minor avalanche of speculation among foreign analysts. The arrests have nothing to do with corruption or everything to do with it; they are about consolidating power or a sign of power consolidated; they are the beginning of a new era of transparency and accountability or further evidence of unchecked power at the height of the Saudi government.

In explaining MbS’s actions, many analysts have looked to China. David Ignatius of the Washington Post was the first of many to compare the arrests to the long-running anticorruption campaign of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which has brought charges against a host of high officials and other bureaucrats. Sometimes these comparisons are a form of flattery,

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