The Saudi Crown Prince is going down
The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is going down, despite what he would like everybody to believe.
The “anti-corruption drive” is becoming clear for what it is. The Saudi treasury is running out of money. As a result, bin Salman has rounded up his cousins, and is attempting to confiscate their money. There has been widespread torture in the process. His cousins are still locked up, in a hotel-turned-detention centre.
This is very painful (physically) for the cousins, some of whom have gone into ICUs. But the thing is, bin Salman’s plan will almost certainly backfire. The money he is beating out of his cousins will run out very fast, too.
People in authoritarian regimes do not care about their country. This is true in Saudi Arabia as it is in old China. But, they do care about money. Everybody cares about their money in Saudi Arabia. It was unlucky for the cousins this time. They had to give it up. But in the future, every Saudi prince in his right mind will put all of his money overseas, out of bin Salman’s reach. What will the Crown Prince do then?
The other thing is, the money will run out, fast. Saudi Arabia is spending 200 million US dollars a day in its war in Yemen. How much does bin Salman aim to round up? His stated goal is 800 billion. Let’s make it 1 trillion, which is not going to happen, by the way. But for the sake of the argument, let’s make it a trillion.
And 1 trillion runs out faster than you think, especially in Saudi Arabia. First you’ve got the war in Yemen. One trillion will last for 5000 days, which is over ten years, which feels very good right? But there is more. There are domestic subsidies. They are in place to prevent the people from rioting, so they absolutely have to be paid. Add on the subsidies and 1 trillion does not feel like a lot, not at all. And then there are foreign aids. One has to keep in mind that Saudi petrodollar does not pay for Saudi bills alone. It also pays for Egyptian bills and Pakistani bills, to name a few. Otherwise, where does Cairo get the money to subsidise food for 100 million people? How does Pakistan pay for fighter jets and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS)?
So you see, bin Salman’s kill-cousin-for-money plan will falter very soon. And then what? You think the cousins will swallow it? You think they will forgive him and move on as a happy family? They will hate him! Of course, most will avoid trouble. But what is to stop a couple princes from attempting to pull off something big, such as an assassination or a coup? Remember, one prince has already been killed in a fire-fight when he resisted arrest.
Think about it. Why would bin Salman rather risk everything by going after his cousins? Why not just impose a tax? Because he does not have confidence in imposing taxes on the Saudi population. In this regard, bin Salman understands Saudi politics remarkably well. He knows that, the royal family pays hefty subsidies to the population, who in return do not rebel. Attempting to collect taxes from a bought-off population will shake the foundation of the princes’ legitimacy. Lastly, the people of Saudi Arabia do not care about what goes on in the palaces. So it’s logical to go after his cousins.
But this has created a dilemma, one that will surface very soon. On the one hand, bin Salman is quickly running out of money. On the other hand, he has destroyed any possibility of a peaceful settlement with the rest of the royal family by torturing them. (Shout out to Zimbabwe, the coup over there was more peaceful than Occupy Wall Street!) This is why I say that the Crown Prince is going down. I wonder what he is going to do when the money runs out.