Like a mountain-climber nearing the summit, the higher Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman rises the further he can fall
The detention of dozens of princes, government officials and business people is seen as further evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is consolidating his position in anticipation of his accession to the Saudi throne.
Most observers say the actions will undermine Saudi Arabia’s political stability by solidifying fissures within the ruling family and polarising sentiments in influential the business community.
Some argue the opposite: Prince Mohammed is removing actual and potential threats at home and abroad while currying favour among the impecunious Saudi Arabian majority resentful of aging plutocrats.
But one thing can’t be disputed. The higher Prince Mohammed rises, the more he has to lose.
Like a climber scaling a mountain, the crown prince has reached a point at which there can be no going back. The risks associated with completing the ascent are now lower than trying to descend.
As he nears the summit, the stakes are inevitably getting higher.
Before January 2015, Prince Salman was an influential figure within his father’s court and in the Defence Ministry which Salman also headed but he was then no threat to the status quo.
No one said that after he became defence minister and cabinet member when his father became king that month. But the sceptics and his critics drew comfort from the fact that Prince Mohammed was still far from the most important levers of power. His cousin Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef was made crown prince and heir. There were other powerful members of the royal family capable of containing him. And his father was still king.
It was immediately obvious there was no stopping Prince Mohammed once he became crown prince in June. Yet the detentions of so many prominent Saudi Arabians this month have still come as a shock.
Further shocks are certain as Prince Mohammed Bin Salman approaches his final destination: the throne itself. The speed of developments since 2015 suggests this will be sooner rather than later.
He may not reach the top.
But it’s time to stop wondering why he got so far so soon and start asking what he will do once he gets there.