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Saudi Arabia detains princes, ex-ministers after cabinet reshuffle

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and other members of Saudi's royal family arrested hours after senior ministers replaced
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah whose father, the late king Abdullah, founded the Equestrian Club of Riyadh, sits at the clubhouse during a horse racing event at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in the capital Riyadh on 11 November 2016

Saudi Arabia has detained 11 princes and dozens of former ministers through its newly formed anti-corruption committee, including erstwhile national guard minister Miteb bin Abdullah.

According to an MEE source in Riyadh, Miteb was arrested along with his brother Turki. Famous multi-billionaire prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz and a number of former ministers and businessmen were also arrested. 

Both Miteb bin Abdullah and Al-Waleed bin Talal are senior members of Saudi's royal family.

Also among the arrested were Waleed al-Ibrahim, founder of the MBC broadcasting group, and billionaire businessman Saleh Kamel.

The arrests came hours after Saudi appointed new ministers. Economy minister Adel Fakieh was replaced by Mohammed al-Tuwaijri while Khaled bin Ayyaf replaced Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, as national guard minister.

The new anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was formed by royal decree earlier on Saturday.

The arrests and dismissals came just two months after King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed as the country's crown prince.

The move consolidates Mohammed's control of the kingdom's security institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family.

"Since Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince in June, we've seen a lot of upheaval," Ian Black, of the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera.

"We've seen the announcement of this very ambitious Saudi plan to transform the country the Saudi economy, Vision 2030."

"The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history," said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

In September the authorities arrested about two dozen people, including influential clerics, in what activists denounced as a coordinated crackdown.

Analysts said many of those detained were resistant to Prince Mohammed's aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar as well as some of his bold policy reforms, including privatising state assets and cutting subsidies.

Born in 1953, Miteb bin Abdullah headed the Saudi Arabian National Guard, an elite internal security force originally based on traditional tribal units that was run by his father for five decades.

As the Sandhurst-trained preferred son of the late King Abdullah, he was once thought to be a leading contender for the throne.

He was also the last remaining member of Abdullah's Shammar branch of the family to retain a key position at the top of the Saudi power structure, after brothers Mishaal and Turki were relieved of their posts as governors in 2015.

Miteb had been in effective command of the force since his father became the country's de facto leader in 1996, when King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke, but was only officially named as its commander in 2010.

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