How Mohammed bin Salman is revolutionizing Saudi Arabia

A senior Saudi Prince, who was detained by Saudi authorities earlier this year, has been held incommunicado ever since, according to a Human Rights Watch report published on Saturday, May 9.

Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, son of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, was arrested on March 27 by Saudi security forces while he was self-isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic at a family compound in Riyadh.

Detained prince could have been forcibly disappeared

The authorities have refused to disclose his whereabouts or status, leading to suspicion the authorities may have "forcibly disappeared" him, a source with ties to the Saudi royal family told the prominent New York-based rights group.

Prince Faisal's case is the most recent in a series of arbitrary arrests of prominent Saudi princes and princesses and Saudi businessmen and current or former government officials. The most widely reported detentions are that of the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz in March and former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. He was allegedly removed to make way for Saudi Arabia's 34-year-old Crown Prince and current de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman following a palace coup and subsequent house arrest in 2017.

In April 2020, a female royal family member Princess Basmah bint Saud Al Saud who was allegedly "abducted" along with her daughter in March 2019, and currently kept in the Al Ha'ir prison in Riyadh pleaded to her uncle the king and her cousin Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for release citing her ailing health and the current coronavirus scare.

"Despite waves of criticism, the lawless behaviour of Saudi authorities during the de facto rule of Mohammed bin Salman continues unabated," Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said referring to the Saudi crown prince.

"Now we have to add Prince Faisal to the hundreds detained in Saudi Arabia without a clear legal basis," he added.

Saudi Arabia's anti-corruption crackdown

This isn't the first time Prince Faisal has been detained by Saudi authorities. In November 2017, the prince was netted in an anti-corruption drive along with over 300 prominent Saudi businessmen, royal family members, and current and former officials at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The authorities are alleged to have pressured them to hand over assets in return for their release, outside of any recognizable legal process. The prince was later released in December 2017 after he agreed to hand over assets. However, the basis of Prince Faisal's current detention remains unclear and it is not known whether it is related to the 2017 crackdown, according to the report.

The crackdown is said to have raised more than $100 billion to the kingdom, with some beaten into submission.

Some of the others detained in the November 2017 purge included several sons of the late Saudi King Abdullah including Prince Mishal bin Abdullah, a former governor of Mecca, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, former National Guard minister, and Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the former governor of Riyadh. The detention of Prince Turki remains reportedly without charge.

Another Saudi billionaire royal Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, among the richest men in the world and famously dubbed the "Arabian Warren Buffet," was held in detention for three months before reaching an agreement with the authorities.

Not 'unfair'

The kingdom has regularly denied allegations of arbitrary arrests and unfair detentions.
Saudi authorities maintained last year the government was winding down the anti-corruption campaign targeting many royals, businessmen, and government officials after 15 months, but said it would continue to go after corruption.

MBS' effort to consolidate power?

Several observers and analysts believe the crackdowns or alleged purges launched by Salman in 2017 and in March this year against senior Saudi royals and security officials, can be seen as efforts by the heir to the royal throne and de facto ruler to consolidate his power in the kingdom.

"The arrest and possible disappearance of Prince Faisal demonstrates again Saudi authorities' blatant disrespect for the rule of law and the need for a full overhaul of the justice system," Page concluded.