Among the more notable geopolitical events that took place last week, and which was swept away by the chaos in the capital markets, was Thursday's surprising announcement of a Saudi cabinet reshuffle that moved around some of the key players in the Khashoggi murder scandal (most notably the chief Saudi diplomat, Adel al-Jubeir) and removed Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al Saud as the Kingdom's ambassador to the UK.
As a result of the reshuffle, more liberals and progressives will move into positions of power, suggesting that it could be part of the Kingdom's plan to move ahead with its 'liberalizing' reforms to try and rehabilitate MbS's tarnished reputation as a reformer. Amid the reshuffle, the king also ordered the creation of a new political and security council (presumably to help protect his chosen successor's flank) and - in a move that is reminiscent of a controversial decision made by President Trump this year - establishes a new Saudi space agency.
The biggest change was the apparent demotion of al-Jubeir to the lesser position of minister of state for foreign affairs and moving Ibrahim al-Assaf, formerly the kingdom's finance minister, to the foreign affairs role. Al-Jubeir who was one of the kingdom's key liaisons with western media during its response to Khashoggi's killing and played an important role in the Saudis PR response to the Khashoggi killing, in addition to being a stalwart supporter of the Crown Prince.
But perhaps an even more prominent event took place just ahead of the reshuffle, when on Wednesday the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Saudi authorities have re-arrested the brother of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal just days following the death of their "reformist" father, after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the arrest of Khalid bin Talal.
"The arrest took place on Tuesday night and until Wednesday evening Khaled was not released despite some promises," the report said according to The New Arab.
Like his brother, Prince Khalid was freed in November after being detained for 11 months for criticising a crackdown on the kingdom's elite that saw dozens of princes, officials and tycoons imprisoned at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel. Prince Khalid's brother Al-Waleed, sometimes called the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia (despite his wealth plummeting 60% from its 2014 peak) was among those rounded up and was released in early January after an undisclosed financial agreement with the government.
The arrest came just days after their father Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, a half-brother of King Salman, died. Defiantly liberal and dubbed the "Red Prince", Talal bin Abdul Aziz was known as a tireless advocate of reform, sometimes in defiance of the royal family. He was a long-standing advocate of allowing Saudi women to drive, a right that was finally granted to female citizens this year.
And so the bifurcated power moves orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman continue, when on one hand he is eager to demonstrate to the world just how more open and liberal the Kingdom is becoming - especially in the aftermath of the bother Khashoggi assassination - yet on the other MbS continues to quietly sequester and dispose of any potential threats to the throne as he prepares to replace his increasingly senile father.
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