Impulsive Saudi Crown Prince Cracks Down, Rattles Global Markets

March 11, 2020

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrested high-ranking members of his family and launched an oil price war with Russia, tanking the market. Code Pink's Medea Benjamin says it just demonstrates how impulsive and capricious MBS's decision making can be.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrested high-ranking members of his family and launched an oil price war with Russia, tanking the market. Code Pink's Medea Benjamin says it just demonstrates how impulsive and capricious MBS's decision making can be.


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017. Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Greg Wilpert: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrested four senior princes over the weekend, including his only surviving uncle, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. The motivation for the arrests is not clear, but it seems that the Crown Prince is trying to further consolidate his hold on power in Saudi Arabia. The rest took place shortly before Saudi Arabia announced that it is increasing its oil production by over 2 million barrels per day to reach its maximum oil production capacity of 12.3 million barrels. The reaction on the world markets was swift. On Monday, oil and stock prices plunged as a result. In the U.S., the Dow Jones average dropped by 7.8% and the price of oil dropped by 30% to $28.50 per barrel. The drop in stock prices was also a reaction to the news about the coronavirus spread throughout the world.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s actions point to the wide repercussions they can have around the globe. But what does it mean? Why did MBS, as the Crown Prince is often known, arrest high level family members and plunge his country into an oil price war with Russia? Joining me now to explore these questions is Medea Benjamin. She’s cofounder of the peace group Code Pink and author of the book Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S. Saudi Connection. Thanks for joining us again. Media.

Medea Benjamin: Nice to be on with you, Greg.

Greg Wilpert: So according to most accounts, MBS is solidly in power in Saudi Arabia, especially since his crackdown shortly after he became Crown Prince in 2017. What is your interpretation of why MBS launched this crackdown on his own family members this past weekend?

Medea Benjamin: There’s a lot of different speculation and one never knows because it’s such a tightly controlled kingdom, but we know that MBS is ruthless. He has at other times arrested several hundred members of the business community and the Royal Family, shook them down for billions of dollars. He arrested Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, kept him incommunicado for several days. He does very rash things and I think that when he feels that anybody might be criticizing him or might be a potential rival, he wants to make sure that they are out of the way. So I think because the world community allows MBS to get away with whatever he wants and because he has so intimidated people inside the kingdom he can once again do this kind of thing and he thinks he can get away with it.

Greg Wilpert: Hmm. Now this brings me to the next question, which is that the MBS portrays himself though as a modernizer, as someone who would bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century. We have a clip here of what he has said on this.

Crown Prince M…: We only want to go back to what we were, the moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all the religions. And quite frankly, we will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.

Greg Wilpert: Medea, do you think there’s any truth to this claim that he’s a modernizer and what does this latest crackdown say to you about him?

Medea Benjamin: Well, he really is very erratic. He has done a couple of things that have brought some degree of modernization. For example, he did grant women the right to drive, but then he immediately through the very women who had been advocating for that right to drive in prison where they have been languishing for the last two years. In fact, this week they’re due in court, but they have been tortured in prison and facing very harsh sentences. He also is bragging about how he’s brought musicians and concerts and other kind of entertainment to the kingdom, which I’m sure is something that many people in Saudi Arabia are happy about and he is trying to open up the economy to be less dependent on oil. But in reality it remains a very, very tightly controlled kingdom where Mohammad bin Salmon is clear that he is the one in control even though it’s supposed to be his father and that he can throw anyone he wants to in prison.

I mean, look at what he did to the Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi and got away with it, even though the CIA came out and said that he was the one who ordered the murder. So it really is the problem of the Western democracies like the United States that are much more interested in selling weapons to the Saudis and getting the benefits of the petrodollars and not holding them accountable that allows Mohammad bin Salmon to be the way he is. And let’s remember, he is also the one that got the Saudis involved in the internal conflict in Yemen that will be going on its fifth year now causing tremendous catastrophe hardship, countless deaths in Yemen. And yet the Western world basically allows it to go on and provides the weapons, the bombs, the planes, all kinds of support to the Saudi regime.

Greg Wilpert: I wanted to return to the issue of the war in Yemen in a moment, but first regarding U.S. Saudi relations, I mean, they’ve always been very tight but seems to be even more so under Trump. Now, do you think that MBS might’ve coordinated his assault on his family members and also on oil prices with the U.S., and how do you interpret this oil price war? I mean, why would he do that?

Medea Benjamin: Well, it seems that he coordinated perhaps or told the administration in the U.S. about him going after his rivals because he had just met with Mike Pompeo. I don’t know about the oil war. You would think he would have called the White House, but yet why would the White House have agreed to it because it affects the global economy? It affected the stock markets. It certainly is not good for Donald Trump. It might mean that prices come down somewhat at the gas tank and Trump has said that would be a side benefit, but it really is not good for the global economy to be in the midst of these oil price wars at a time when the demand for oil is low, when the coronavirus is affecting the global economy, when the markets are so shaky. So it’s not clear why Mohammad bin Salman thinks this is a good thing for the Saudis.

The lowering of the prices of oil also affects the Saudi economy, and depending how things go in the next couple of weeks, it could really do damage to the economy that Mohammed bin Salman has been telling his people that he is capable of running and capable of providing the benefits for the Saudi people. If he shows he is not, he might have a lot of internal problems that he has not faced yet.

Greg Wilpert: Hmm. Now, finally, returning again to the war in Yemen, this brutal war, which is continuing with U.S. support as you mentioned, has killed over 100,000 people since 2015. But last year Congress passed a War Powers resolution to halt U.S. support for the war in Yemen, but Trump vetoed it and Congress wasn’t able to override that veto. But still, has MBS shown any signs or willingness to put an end to this brutal war so far?

Medea Benjamin: Well, there’s a lot of pressure on MBS to put an end to this war because it’s been going on for so long and because not just the United States, but Germany, France, the U.K., their people there have been pressing very hard, not only to stop the weapon sales, but to push for peace talks and there have been peace talks that have been going on. There also is the factor that the G20 is planning to meet in Saudi Arabia in November and it will be very embarrassing for the leaders of the world to go to Saudi Arabia while they continue to bomb the people of Yemen. So there is hope that the peace talks will come to some positive conclusion, but we don’t know. MBS is not somebody who has shown himself to be open to compromise. He wants to win. He hasn’t been winning for all of these years and hopefully there will be enough pressure on him to make the necessary compromise to have the peace talks be successful.

Greg Wilpert: Hmm. Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the peace group Code Pink. Thanks again, Medea, for having joined us today.

Medea Benjamin: Thanks for having me on, Greg.

Greg Wilpert: And thank you for joining the Real News Network.