Saudi Arabia: Anti-Graft Crackdown after Purge
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia launched a second wave of arrests and froze bank accounts in an escalating anti-corruption crackdown on its political and corporate elites. Just one day earlier, authorities arrested dozens of princes, ministers, and influential businessmen.
201 people are being held for questioning, over 1,700 domestic bank accounts have been frozen, and Saudi authorities estimate that at least US$100 billion have been misused or embezzled. According to the Wall Street Journal, the anti-corruption committee aims to seize up to US$800 billion in assets.
The anti-corruption sweep faced no visible resistance as Saudi youths and conservative religious clerics generally welcomed the purge. The Saudi Arabian central bank has also moved quickly to assuage investor fears.
Crown Prince Salman: Iran Committed ‘Act of War’
Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) accused Iran of “direct military aggression” which was tantamount to an “act of war”, after Saudi air defence forces shot down a ballistic missile fired from Yemen. Iran denied involvement in the attempted missile attack.
Since 2015, Yemen has been mired in a proxy war between a Saudi-led coalition that backs the Yemeni government, and Houthi rebels believed to be backed by Iran. The civil war has led to over 100,000 civilian deaths and an intractable humanitarian crisis made more difficult by a cholera outbreak which has infected up to a million Yemenis.
Lebanon’s PM Resigns, Citing Fears of Assassination
On Saturday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned, citing an assassination plot against him as the reason and accusing Iran and its Iran-backed Hezbollah of destabilising the region. Hariri’s resignation came as a shock and immediately threw Lebanon into a political chaos. Hariri is presently seeking refuge in Riyadh.
The resignation also thrusts Lebanon into a tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran. The Hezbollah accuses Riyadh of masterminding Hariri’s resignation while Iran claims that Saudi is trying to sow discord in Lebanon and the region.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to evacuate Lebanon and warned Saudis against traveling to the country.
Egypt’s Al-Sisi Will Not Seek Third Term
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told CNBC on Monday that he respects Egypt’s constitution – which allows leaders to serve only two four-year terms – and does not plan to seek a third term as leader.
Elections in Egypt will be held in March or April 2018.
ILO Clears Qatar Over Treatment of Migrant Workers
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has closed a case against Qatar over its poor treatment of migrant workers. The ILO welcomes the Gulf state’s reforms to its infamous Kafala system: Qatar is set to introduce a minimum wage and to allow workers to leave the country without their employers’ permission.
In 2014, the ILO received a complaint over Qatar’s failure to adhere to its obligations as a signatory of treaties on forced labour and labour inspections.