Apparently feeling emboldened by the fact that Saudi Arabia suffered zero repercussions over the Oct.3, 2018 state-ordered murder of Jamal Khashoggi, other than crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) briefly being shunned by international elites for a few months, it's business as usual again in the kingdom of horrors.
In a new breaking report, The Wall Street Journal reveals that "Saudi authorities have arrested several high-profile people in recent days, extending an effort to sideline Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s perceived opponents, despite a push to repair the kingdom’s international image to attract investment."
The WSJ counts nine people total arrested in a span of a little more than the past week who are not particularly known for being dissidents or any level of explicitly anti-government activists. They include journalists, intellectuals and businessmen detained since Nov. 16.
What additionally makes these detentions particularly brazen on the part of Riyadh authorities is that it comes just in the final stages of the kingdom preparing for the launch of what most see as the biggest listing in history, Saudi Aramco IPO.
The damning WSJ report hit the same day that Aramco executives met with Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) officials in the UAE to discuss investment options and possibilities in the oil giant's debut share sale, and at a moment the kingdom is desperate to attract a major anchor investor to ensure success.
It appears MbS — no doubt further emboldened by continued support from President Trump even after the Khashoggi affair — realizes a pesky little issue like human rights abuses, including torture of dissidents and continued record pace beheadings and crucifixions, can't stand in the way.
It also looks as if MbS wants to continue to preempt any future possible criticism from within, given the following:
A person familiar with the matter said all of the people arrested in recent days had been identified by the government for writing or speaking in support of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled a series of Middle Eastern governments.
The 'Arab Spring' of some eight years ago left little impact in Saudi Arabia, though there were reports of sporadic intense protests among the country's restive Shia population in the eastern part of the kingdom. The Saudi military did lend support to the allied Bahraini monarchy by sending tanks across the King Fahd Causeway to crush a popular uprising in the streets there.
Interestingly some among the arrested were intellectuals and human rights organization members who themselves had previously voiced support for and participated in initiatives connected with MbS' reform initiative.
The WSJ reports of others who don't fit the profile of dissidents in any clear way: "Another, prominent philosopher Sulaiman al-Saikhan al-Nasser, participated in government-sponsored cultural initiatives... Also arrested in recent days were Fuad al-Farhan and Musab Fuada, who both started a company that offers business skills training... Abdulaziz al-Hais, is a former journalist who now owns a carpentry business.... Abdulrahman Alshehri is a journalist who has written for domestic and international outlets."
One official with Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the WSJ, “It’s all connected to the same campaign of trying to eliminate independent voices in Saudi society, of going after anyone who could be even mildly critical or independent.”