This weekend saw dozens of royals arrested, one country without its longtime leader, and another under a total blockade leaving observers stunned that any of it even happened.
To understand this drama, we have to go way back. King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia, left everything to his sons when he died in 1953, and since then the crown has passed among them.
In June, King Salman — who is 81 and took office in 2015, after his very conservative half-brother, Abdullah, died — shook things up, giving the man who was crown prince the boot and naming his son to the position instead.
Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS as he’s known, is only 32 — a full-on millennial. But don’t underestimate him — he’s been setting aggressive policy in the region for years now.
He also wants to modernize Saudi’s economy, weaning it off its dependence on oil revenues, and liberalize the country more broadly, relaxing social restrictions, and allowing women to drive.
Five months after MbS became Crown Prince, there were still rumblings of discontent about the succession shuffle — which leads us to fast-forward to Saturday, when things went bonkers in the region.
Saudi Arabia is one of the few absolute monarchies left in the world. This weekend, King Salman used his power to issue a decree setting up a powerful new anti-corruption agency. And — surprise, surprise — it’s headed by MbS.
Dozens of members of the royal family and top businessmen in the Kingdom were rounded up under the new law, a move the Saudi government described as being a way to root out corruption.
Most observers are pretty sure the move is about consolidating the hold on power that MbS will have once he becomes king after Salman passes away or abdicates — something some predict could come before the year is out.
Among those arrested or fired: Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, head of the Saudi national guard; Adel bin Mohammed Faqih, the minister of economy and planning; and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the billionaire who owns the Kingdom Holding Group, which invests in Citigroup and Twitter.
Their treatment so far isn’t bad — many of them are reportedly being held in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which has been compared to a palace in its own right.
Adding to the chaos, another Saudi royal — a son of the Crown Prince that MbS replaced — died this weekend in a plane crash, the cause of which has yet to be announced.
As if that wasn't enough, earlier in the day, the prime minister of Lebanon resigned while visiting Saudi Arabia.
And a missile fired from inside Yemen landed near the Saudi capital’s airport, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to announce a blockade of Yemen’s air, land, and sea borders.
It's all been a lot for the region to process and as of Monday, it's still unclear what will happen to the imprisoned royals or how long the blockade will last.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Saturday. A previous version of this post said Rafik Hariri, Saad's father and a former prime minister himself, had resigned instead.
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Hayes Brown at email@example.com.
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