Saudi economic officials have issued a slew of statements aimed at reassuring investors — particularly from abroad — following the unveiling of King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz’s anti-corruption committee — headed by his son, crown prince Mohammad bin Salman — and the near simultaneous arrest of 11 princes, tens of past and present ministers, and senior officials and businessmen for investigation by the committee.
Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz’s decree to allow women to hold driving licences from June 2018 has come as something of a surprise. No leaks, trial balloons or statements were issued to signal that the decision was imminent.
But the text of the king’s decree also shows that he believes change must be controlled, and must be initiated from the top, rather than coming from the bottom upwards.
The crisis pitting Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar is the most serious turbulence to afflict the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) bloc since what is now called ‘the First Gulf War’, when non-member Iraq briefly invaded and occupied member state Kuwait.
The major difference between today’s crisis and those dramas, of course, is that there is no military dimension now, and no military escalation is to be expected. But the political fallout is massive.
An agreement signed by Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Ali Naimi and his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak in St Petersburg last week created the fleeting impression that Saudi Arabia had convinced Russia to co-operate with Opec to defend prices.
Naimi himself has said that the participation of non-Opec producers such as Russia and Mexico would be a pre-condition for resuming a strategy of defending oil prices through output constraint, and abandoning the new Opec strategy of defending market share. Back in March, he said: “Because it is a common interest, everyone should participate if we want to improve prices, because it is not right for one party to gain at the expense of the other.”
Speculation that state-owned Saudi Aramco and the country’s oil ministry are to be “separated” is misleading. It stems from a 30 April news report on privately owned Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya, which is close to the new deputy Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, and it has been widely assumed that he or his office was the source of the story.