The New York Times published a report today on the “coercion and abuse” behind Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption push, which has been spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The report is titled “Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions.”
Close readers of the Times, or in fact anyone who receives their push alerts, may remember a different take on the crown prince’s new plan in that very paper: an opinion piece by Times columnist Thomas Friedman in November 2017, titled “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last.”
Let’s compare Friedman’s take with the reported piece that ran today (all emphasis ours).
Thomas Friedman, November:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — I never thought I’d live long enough to write this sentence: The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. Yes, you read that right. Though I came here at the start of Saudi winter, I found the country going through its own Arab Spring, Saudi style.
Times reporters, today:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Businessmen once considered giants of the Saudi economy now wear ankle bracelets that track their movements. Princes who led military forces and appeared in glossy magazines are monitored by guards they do not command. Families who flew on private jets cannot gain access to their bank accounts. Even wives and children have been forbidden to travel.
Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.
During months of captivity, many were subject to coercion and physical abuse, witnesses said. In the early days of the crackdown, at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse and one later died in custody with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse, according to a person who saw the body.
To better understand it I flew to Riyadh to interview the crown prince, known as “M.B.S.,” who had not spoken about the extraordinary events here of early November, when his government arrested scores of Saudi princes and businessmen on charges of corruption and threw them into a makeshift gilded jail — the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton — until they agreed to surrender their ill-gotten gains. You don’t see that every day.
Relatives of some of the detainees said they were deprived of sleep, roughed up and interrogated with their heads covered while the government pressured them to sign over large assets.
Evidence of such abuse has been slow to emerge, but officials from two Western governments said they deemed the reports credible.
It’s “ludicrous,” [bin Salman] said, to suggest that this anticorruption campaign was a power grab. He pointed out that many prominent members of the Ritz crowd had already publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms, and that “a majority of the royal family” is already behind him.
One target is the wealth of the offspring of King Abdullah, the previous monarch. They were seen as potential rivals for the Saudi throne and since Salman became king in 2015, he and the crown prince have moved to sideline them.