How Saudi elite became five-star prisoners at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton

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At 11pm on Saturday, guests at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh got a rude awakening. Businesspeople and consultants who were staying in one of Riyadh’s most opulent digs, along with diners and visitors, were all told to assemble in the lobby with their bags. No one knew why.

From midnight, buses arrived in the sprawling complex disgorging princes, business leaders, other royals, their guards and their captors. The arrivals marked the start of an extraordinary episode that exposed the kingdom’s elite to rare public scrutiny and showed that, even when accused of high crime, the powerful maintain privileges.

The arrests had been decreed by the monarch, King Salman, and carried out by his powerful son and heir, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has committed to overturning most of the established order in his heady six months in office. But even for the ambitious crown prince, taking on the establishment to this extent was a risky step – and he needed to take precautions.

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In a historically deeply tribal Saudi Arabia, insulting a family patriarch, or senior figure, has consequences. The modern kingdom has been ruled by a consensual alliance between various – sometimes competing – branches of the royal family, all of which are descended from the founding ruler, Abdulaziz al-Saud (Ibn Saud).

Demeaning one, by putting him in a prison cell, is a slur that would be felt far wider, and would have implications tribally. Any insult, perceived or otherwise, could break ties that bind society in Saudi Arabia, and in tribal societies more generally. Senior figures have long held a stake in the system, which in turn helps secure their loyalty. If that stake was shattered, Saudi leaders could not bank on the enduring loyalty of family members they need to secure their reign.

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“He couldn’t have put them in the jail,” said a senior official. “And he would have known that. So this was the most dignified solution he could find.”

Source Credit: The Guardian
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