Tough words from Saudi deputy crown prince in times of change

Sunday 07/05/2017
Time of significant change. A picture shows Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, on April 11. (Reuters)

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.