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Feature Article
Crimes and Misdemeanors: A Breakdown in Discipline? 2015-11-15
Reports of Saudi royals in legal trouble have been making headlines, adding to Al Saud embarrassment over reports of family dissension and an internal power struggle. Princes behaving badly is not a recent development, but in the age of mass media, reports of their transgressions can no longer be swept under the carpet.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

A very bad year for the royals has taken a turn for the worse. On top of criticism of the conduct of the Kingdom's war in Yemen, where civilian casualties are high and the humanitarian situation has worsened, with little to show for the months of Saudi operations, came the human tragedy in Makkah, where a crane collapse at the Grand Mosque was followed by an even worse disaster at Mina during Hajj. A worse turn of events can hardly be imagined. As the self-professed leader of the Sunni world against a perceived Shi'a encirclement, a decisive outcome was needed in the proxy war with Iran on the Kingdom's southern borders. And as the guardian of Islam's holy places and the patron of the yearly rituals which take place in Makkah and Madinah, the royal family has suffered a serious blow to its prestige with the double tragedy. Then, reports began to circulate of an impending coup against the incumbent leadership by a faction of dissatisfied princes, as well as a deeply worrisome power struggle developing between the crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayif, and the second deputy premier and king's son, Muhammad bin Salman. The intensely private royal family is always loathe to have its dirty laundry aired in public, but the pervasiveness of new forms of media, especially the proliferation of social media accounts purporting to have inside information (though most deal only with unsubstantiated rumors) has only worsened the sense of gloom.

As if to add insult to injury, younger members of the family cannot seem to stay out of trouble. On September 23, a prince was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of sexual assault, false imprisonment and battery. County prosecutors said they had insufficient evidence to file felony charges, but misdemeanor charges are still being weighed. Three women are also suing the prince, later revealed to be a son of the late King Abdallah, seeking damages and alleging emotional distress, sexual discrimination, and assault and battery at the multi-million rented home in Beverly Hills. Prince Majid fled the country and his attorneys claim the allegations were brought to extract money, but the graphic and lurid details of wild partying, cocaine use, depraved sex acts, and death threats against the workers dominated the news for weeks.

Then, on October 26, Prince Abd al-Muhsin bin Walid was arrested when two tonnes of amphetamines and cocaine were found being loaded on his private jet in Lebanon. Airport security, apparently acting on a tip-off, seized 40 suitcases, marked with the Saudi royal seal, allegedly stuffed with more than 4,000 pounds of Captagon. The plane was bound for Ha'il, and the prince, along with five other Saudis, was detained in Beirut. Another prince was arrested by Moroccan authorities at Muhammad V Airport in Casablanca on November 12, after it was discovered that an international arrest warrant had been issued.for him by an Interpol office in Saudi Arabia.

The two high-profile events come at the same time as a court in London decided the case of Janan al-Harb, a wife of the late King Fahd, who was suing his estate for what she said had been promised her. The royals had tried hard to prevent the details of the case from being made public, again preferring to deal with family matters behind closed doors. Such an attitude becomes increasingly difficult in the age of mass media. A case in point was the 2013 arrest of Misha'il al-Ayban, a wife of Prince Abd al-Rahman bin Nasir in Los Angeles. She was accused of enslaving a woman as a housemaid, but felony human trafficking charges were eventually dropped. The Kenyan servant claimed she was held as a virtual prisoner in the California home, but the prosecutors said they were unable to corroborate the allegation. Of course, given that the charges were dropped, the royals would have preferred that the story had never seen the light of day.

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