The arrest of senior princes by Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has triggered a wave of speculation as to why they were suddenly removed.
Prince Mohammed (commonly known as MBS) is No stranger to controversy, displayed a ruthless ambition to force his way to the very top of the political tree, silencing rivals and opponents from across the spectrum since his meteoric rise began in 2015.
Power plays inside the Saudi royal family always set tongues wagging, and rumours abounded that King Salman was close to death, or that MBS sensed a palace coup was in the offing and moved quickly to snuff it out.
There was no truth to either of these claims, which ignored the far more obvious answer: it was a message from both Salman and MBS to the rest of the family to get into line, an act of discipline that will secure loyalty and remind everyone who the boss is
Neither man possessed much power anymore: MBN had been unceremoniously dumped from office in 2017 as King Salman cleared the way for MBS – his son – to take the throne; and Prince Ahmad had preferred to spend his time and money in London before returning to the kingdom late last year.
The question many ask is why MBS decided to once again go after his rivals, especially given that they were already weakened and largely incapable of challenging his grip on power.
Only he will know the real answer, and in a country as opaque as Saudi Arabia it will be impossible to get the full truth from official Saudi sources.
But one thing is for certain – the young crown prince knew that there would be no great cost to him, either domestically or internationally.
And so MBS has been able to do more or less as he pleases, securing power by ruthlessly isolating sectors of Saudi public life that stood in his way – be they clerics, rival relatives, businessmen or domestic pressure groups – and one by one crushing them with the full force of the state.