It was a busy night on 4 November in Riyadh. The Saudi capital’s air defences were scrambled to intercept missiles heading towards the city’s airport from Yemen, while in the halls of power, leading government officials were replaced and a new committee to combat corruption was established.
The Houthi rockets from Yemen were quickly shot down, but the government changes and the speed at which the anti-corruption drive was launched will test the nerves of many in Saudi Arabia for much longer.
The government changes involved the sacking of the Minister of the National Guard Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. The decision was widely expected. Although he had maintained a low profile since the death of his father King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, he was still considered in some circles as a potential challenger to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
The move to consolidate Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s position follows his appointment as crown prince in June, when he replaced another potential contender for the throne: Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
The move to replace Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah came at the same time as the establishment of a new committee to combat corruption, which will be chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Within hours of the new body being announced, reports emerged that 11 princes, four sitting ministers and tens of former ministers had been detained as part of the anti-corruption drive.
The princes are reported to include Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the head of Kingdom Holding, and the ministers include Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf. Later reports said security forces had grounded private jets in Jeddah to prevent key figures from fleeing the country, and the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh had been emptied to house the detained princes and ministers.
With a broad-reaching mandate to stamp out corruption in the kingdom, many will now be wondering who is next.