Prince Abdullah bin Saud bin Mohammed was named president of the Saudi Marine Sports Federation in October. His tenure came to an abrupt end after three months on Wednesday, when he was sacked over his criticism of royal arrests seen by skeptics as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to consolidate power.
Prince Abdullah reportedly denounced the arrest of eleven other princes in Riyadh last week, because they complained that the Saudi government was no longer paying their utility bills. The cuts were announced as part of the austerity measures taken by the Saudi government, which is dealing with the financial fallout from the collapse of world oil prices. The group also demanded compensation for a cousin sentenced to death in 2016.
The unhappy princes decided to stage a sit-in at a palace in Riyadh to protest the loss of their subsidies, which was a wise choice of venue for their protest because the palace still had lights, air conditioning, and running water. Unfortunately, it also boasted troops from an elite security unit called the “Blood-Rusted Sword” that is personally loyal to the Crown Prince. The protesting princes were reportedly hauled off to a maximum-security prison.
“The arrests are reflective of the hardline stand by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to push through austerity measures,” reported NPR.
Prince Abdullah allegedly disagreed. In a viral audio clip he is believed to have published himself, the erstwhile president of the Saudi Marine Sports Federation said the whole thing was a setup. He described the arrested princes as “the finest youth of our country” and insisted there is no way they would “object to the orders of the rulers.”
“They had arrived at the palace to accompany their relative who was called to be asked about his previous job. Upon arrival, he was let in but they were prevented from entering with him, and a brief physical fight with the guards occurred,” the voice on the clip reportedly said.
Abdullah called the charges against the eleven “false and illogical” and said they were unfairly portrayed as hedonists who care too much about “money and the pleasures of the world.” The full recording runs almost six minutes in length.
The day after he made these accusations in public, Abdullah was removed from his post and replaced by a military officer.
The Financial Times puts the arrest of the eleven princes in the context of Crown Prince bin Salman’s “hardline stance toward dissent as he consolidates power since his promotion to heir apparent in June.”
“Those detained for protesting about the changes to subsidies are descendants of Prince Saud al-Kabeer, a cousin of the kingdom’s founder whose branch of the sprawling royal family has no direct line to the throne. The branch does, however, include senior princes such as the founder of dairy group Almarai and a former deputy minister,” the FT observes.
Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb insisted the eleven princes were detained because they “refused to leave the area, disrupting public peace and order” when they protested at the palace.
“All people are equal and that anyone who does not abide by the rules will be accountable whoever he is,” the attorney general’s office stated.