Timeline: Saudi Arabia shakes up Middle Eastern politics

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In a historic week of domestic and regional power plays, observers of Middle Eastern politics scrambled to stay abreast of developments and decipher motives coming out of Riyadh, starting on Saturday, November 4.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a corruption probe that has so far seen 208 government officials and royal family members brought in for questioning.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned while in Riyadh, a move that many fear was forced by the Saudi government in a bid to upset the power balance in Beirut.

rocket fired by Houthi rebels at Riyadh has been linked to Tehran and Saudi Arabia responded by tightening border controls on war-torn Yemen, raising fears of an escalation of the humanitarian crisis there.


Saturday, November 4

  • Houthi rebels in Yemen fired rockets at the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The attack was thwarted by Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-manufactured missile shield.
  • Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced resignation via TV in Riyadh. In a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA, Hariri said “when Iran comes to any place, it does only plant in it sedition and destruction.”
  • Saudi Arabia’s King Salman removed a prominent prince from leadership of the National Guard and replaced the economy minister. He also announced the creation of a new corruption committee as the reshuffle turned into what was quickly termed a “purge”. Royal family-owned Al-Arabiya reported 11 princes and dozens of former ministers were detained.
  • Heir to the throne Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed to lead the corruption probe, which included the arrest of the powerful business leader Alwaleed bin Talal. According to Politico, the arrested also include two sons of the previous Saudi king.

Sunday, November 5

  • Reuters reported that senior officials confirmed that the “purge” was part of the corruption probe, and that the mass arrests were based on charges of fraud, embezzlement and money-laundering.

Monday, November 6

  • Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “a blatant act of military aggression,” saying that missiles recently fired at Riyadh by Yemeni Houthi militias originated in Iran. Tehran denies arming the rebels.
  • Riyadh tightened the blockade on Yemen.
  • Yemeni officials told AP that their president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has been barred from leaving Riyadh, possibly as part of a feud with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – a key player in the Saudi-led coalition against rebels in Yemen.
  • A helicopter crash killed a Saudi prince, who was deputy governor of Asir province.

Tuesday, November 7

  • Lebanese officials told AP they fear that Hariri’s resignation was part of a regional power play, with Saudi Arabia attempting to upset the delicate balance holding together Lebanon’s government. A shift in the make-up of the Lebanese government could upset Iran-linked Shi’a group Hezbollah, which already accused Riyadh of forcing Hariri to resign.

Wednesday, November 8

  • The U.S. gave its backing to Saudi Arabia, with ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley calling for the diplomatic body to “hold the Iranian regime accountable” for allegedly providing weapons to the Houthi rebels.
  • The UN warned that the tightened blockade on Yemen could cause “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.”

Thursday, November 9

  • French President Emanuel Macron announced that he will travel to Riyadh to meet Mohammad bin Salman. Macron was already in Dubai and told a news conference he wanted to meet the crown prince and discuss regional stability.
  • SPA reported that Saudi nationals are being told to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible”.
  • Neighbouring UAE asked banks to provide information about accounts held by those arrested in the Saudi corruption probe.
  • According to a statement carried by SPA, a total of 208 people have been called in for questioning, only seven of whom were released without charge. The corruption probe covers an estimated $100 billion of funds misappropriated over several decades.

Friday, November 10

  • Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told a Saudi official that Hariri’s resignation is unacceptable. Reuters, which cites unnamed sources, reported that Aoun told the Saudi envoy to Lebanon that Hariri must return to Beirut.
  • Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, said in a televised address that it is clear that Hariri is detained in Riyadh and that “Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon”.
  • The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen reopened its land border to allow aid into the country, though the WHO and aid agencies warned that the risk of famine is still severe and called for ports to be opened.

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