US President Donald Trump has voiced support for a sweeping crackdown by Saudi rulers on royals and businessmen as part of a purported anti-graft campaign, which is widely viewed as an attempt to strengthen Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grip on power.
Dozens of high-profile royals, ministers and business tycoons were arrested in the weekend purge soon after the creation of a so-called anti-corruption commission headed by bin Salman.
A press release from the Saudi Ministry of Communications said the move was part of an “active reform agenda aimed at tackling a persistent problem that has hindered development efforts in the kingdom in recent decades.”
Trump hailed the Saudi crackdown, claiming that those targeted had been “milking” the kingdom for years.
“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” he tweeted on Monday. “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”
Among those arrested were billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard.
The detentions recalled a palace coup in June that ousted Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as the first in line to the Saudi throne and replaced him with Mohammed bin Salman.
Bin Salman has unveiled a raft of radical reforms since his rise to power.
However, critics say the Saudi crown prince is using the reforms as a pretext to remove his potential political adversaries.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US official told Reuters that bin Salman “has become the primary driver of Saudi policy-making. He has moved aggressively to sideline opponents, concentrate decision-making authority, and establish himself as the undisputed heir to the Al Saud legacy.”
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, told the Associated Press that the recent arrests were meant to ease the crown prince’s eventual succession to the Saudi throne.