Tough words from Saudi deputy crown prince in times of change
London- Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz has stated that no one in the kingdom is above the law.
In a wide-ranging interview broadcast on Arabic satellite channels, Prince Mohammed said the fight against corruption was a priority for the Saudi government. He said King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had made changes to the kingdom’s Anti-Corruption Commission because of dissatisfaction with its performance.
“If you do not give priority to the fight against corruption, you will not succeed [in] whatever you do,” Prince Mohammed said. “I assure you that any person involved in a corruption case, whether minister, prince or whatever, will not escape.”
Prince Mohammed’s interview comes at a time of significant change in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s Civil Service minister was fired in April after a complaint was filed with the anti-corruption commission over allegations of nepotism. Former minister Khalid al-Araj is under investigation and, if found guilty of abuse of power, could be sentenced to ten years in jail.
Prince Mohammed, who is the Saudi defence minister, also addressed concerns regarding Iran.
“How can I come to an understanding with someone, or a regime, that has an anchoring belief built on an extremist ideology?” Prince Mohammed asked in a reply to a question about direct talks with Tehran.
The deputy crown prince said Iran’s designs for the region were based on Shia religious dogma, related to the return of al-Mahdi, a revered Shia imam, who in Shia doctrine disappeared in the ninth century but will return on judgment day to bring justice to the world.
“Their stance is that the awaited Mahdi will come and they need to create a fertile environment for the arrival of the awaited Mahdi, and they need to take over the Islamic world,” Prince Mohammed said.
“We know we are a main target of Iran,” he said, adding that the kingdom would not wait for the battle to reach its borders.
Prince Mohammed defended the Saudi stance on the conflict in Yemen, in which a Saudi-led coalition is fighting in support of the Yemeni government against the Iran-supported Houthi militia and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“When war began, there was no other option for Saudi Arabia. It was something we had to do or the other scenario would be much worse,” he said, adding that the kingdom’s military forces could neutralise the Houthis “in a few days” but that casualties to both Saudi troops and civilians would be substantial.
The deputy crown prince dismissed notions of a dispute between Riyadh and Cairo, blaming such rumours on media outlets sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group outlawed in most of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt.
“The media criticising Saudi Arabia or the Saudi-Egyptian relationship is the same criticising [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi],” Prince Mohammed said.
“Without a doubt, the enemies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt will try to create rumours in one form or another, whether from Iranian propaganda or Brotherhood propaganda to cause a rift in the Saudi-Egyptian relationship and the leadership of the two countries does not pay attention to these polemics and trivialities.”
The prince spoke about the economic reform drive in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the Saudi economy and move Riyadh away from its traditional reliance on revenues from the energy sector, is the brainchild of Prince Mohammed.
He said the steps taken by the kingdom have slowed growth but averted an economic recession.
“Although our prices dipped to as low as $27 [per barrel of oil] for more than one year, the government managed to shield economic indicators from the negative impact,” Prince Mohammed said.
“Gross domestic product is still growing — not at global rates, true, but it is not going into deflation.”
Riyadh has reversed some austerity measures, restoring bonuses and allowances to state workers and military personnel. The reinstatement of government perks was attributed to increased revenue and a decline in the kingdom’s budget deficit, which Prince Mohammed confirmed, dismissing that public pressure was a motivation.
“The deficit fell 44% below our projections. Why? Because of austerity measures,” he said, adding that they were temporary and reviewed periodically and would be reinstated in the event of an economic crisis.