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rmstock: | November 10, 2017, 08:05:57 PM


Saudi arrest of Binladin family scion shatters royal entente
By AYA BATRAWY
Today [Sat Nov 11 01:01:53 CET 2017]
https://apnews.com/7525e2b8d2b84b80aa50d9587bdc0bdf/Saudi-arrest-of-Binladin-family-scion-shatters-royal-entente

  "DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Among those caught in the
   unprecedented arrests this week of top princes, wealthy businessmen and
   senior officials was the scion of one of Saudi Arabia’s most
   recognizable families: Bakr Binladin, the chairman of the kingdom’s
   pre-eminent contractor — and Osama bin Laden’s half-brother.
   
   It was a stunning end to a decades-old alliance between the ruling Al
   Saud and Binladin families that saw the Saudi Binladin Group secure a
   near-monopoly on mega-expansion projects in Islam’s two holiest sites,
   Mecca and Medina, throughout the reigns of successive Saudi monarchs.
   
   The government says 201 people have been taken into custody in the
   purge, which comes amid an anti-corruption probe it says uncovered at
   least $100 billion in graft and embezzlement.
   
   Saudi critics and experts have called the arrests a bold and risky move
   by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at consolidating power as he
   sidelines potential rivals, silences critics and dismantles alliances
   built with other branches of the royal family.
   
   The 32-year-old crown prince, who is the son of King Salman and is
   popularly known by his initials MBS, is leading the anti-corruption
   investigation. He’s also the force behind the so-called Vision 2030
   plan, a blueprint for how to restructure the country and wean it from
   its dependence on oil revenue.
   
   The arrests of Binladin and the others not only signal the end of old
   alliances, but also speak to the larger demands being made on the
   business community to pay into the crown prince’s economic vision in an
   era of lower oil prices.
   
   “This is the beginning of the rise of economic nationalism,” said Ayham
   Kamel, head of the Middle East and North Africa division of the Eurasia
   Group.
   
   A centerpiece of that plan is NEOM, a $500 billion project that
   promises to be the world’s most futuristic and technologically-advanced
   city, which was unveiled by the crown prince at a headline-grabbing
   global investment conference in Saudi Arabia last month.
   
   But instead of receiving major pledges to the project by Saudi business
   leaders, MBS “got deafening silence”, Kamel said.
   
   Since the 1950′s, the Binladins have been the royal family’s go-to
   contractor for some of its most sensitive projects, including
   construction of private palaces in the immediate boon years after oil
   was discovered in Saudi Arabia.
   
   As the royal family spent lavishly on trips abroad and new palaces at
   home, the Binladins became their creditors, as well as contractors.
   
   Reliable and discreet, the Binladin Group would go on to build
   confidential defense projects in the kingdom, as well as landmark
   skyscrapers, universities, a military hospital, an airport, a financial
   district and much more.
   
   Run as a private company by members of the large Binladin family, the
   firm is no stranger to political upheaval and changes in the kingdom.
   In fact, part of its success has been in its ability to adapt to the
   whims of kings and princes.
   
   “The Binladins were able to remain essential to the royal family
   despite very dramatic events within the royal family,” said Steve Coll,
   author of “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century.”
   
   The Binladins were also no strangers to controversy. They weathered the
   blow to the family name and reputation after the 9/11 attacks in New
   York masterminded by Osama bin Laden, a son of family patriarch
   Mohammed Binladin.
   
   In 1931, the elder Binladin, a poor Yemeni migrant who had traveled
   north in the 1920s to the Red Sea port of Jiddah, founded the company
   that bears his name. He married some two dozen women and fathered more
   than 50 children, including the future al-Qaida leader.
   
   After the 9/11 attacks, the Binladins hired lawyers and public
   relations specialists in the U.S. to try to communicate their disdain
   for Osama bin Laden, and their willingness to cooperate with
   Washington, Coll said.
   
   In the 1990s, under pressure from the Saudi government, Bakr Binladin
   oversaw proceedings to strip his brother of all his shares in the
   family’s company and wealth, a move that came as the kingdom stripped
   the al-Qaida leader of his nationality.
   
   “Bakr achieved what he set out to do, which is he kept the company
   intact, he kept it legitimate in the international economy and went on
   to concentrate primarily on construction in the region, and in Saudi
   Arabia in particular,” Coll said.
   
   The Binladin Group was crucial to Saudi rulers in 1979 when militants
   laid siege to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca for 15 days. The company,
   which had been working on expansion projects there, helped flush the
   rebels out of tunnels because they had the blueprints and maps, Coll
   said.
   
   But while the Al Saud-Binladin alliance has been a pillar of how the
   royal family retained power over the years, the needs of the kingdom
   have changed, Kamel said.
   
   “They helped the Al Saud family in their time of need, but the utility
   of that relationship has been exhausted,” he said. “It is no longer
   attractive for Al Saud to retain that, nor can they afford to.”
   
   In 2015, the Binladin Group suffered two major blows: the collapse of
   oil prices and the collapse of one of its cranes.
   
   The crane disaster killed 111 hajj pilgrims on the pristine marble
   floors of the Grand Mosque housing the cube-shaped Kaaba. The firm came
   under investigation, a travel ban was imposed on Bakr Binladin and the
   company remains embroiled in litigation to this day.
   
   The collapse of oil prices delayed government payments to contractors,
   and by 2016, the Binladin Group was forced to cut tens of thousands of
   jobs. Disgruntled workers complained they had not been paid in months
   and hundreds took to the streets of Mecca in rare protests, setting
   company buses alight.
   
   At the time, the company was in the midst of the largest expansion in
   the history of the Grand Mosque, a project initiated by the late King
   Abdullah that included the construction of one of the world’s tallest
   towers topped by a neon clock. The firm was also involved in
   controversial construction projects ordered by the king that historians
   say wiped out key traces of Mecca’s history dating back to the Prophet
   Muhammad.
   
   In many ways, the Binladins were seen as part of the old guard— a part
   of the economy that was based on personal relationships and not
   transparent, Coll said.
   
   As part of that system, the Binladin Group appeared to be doing well
   financially before the collapse of oil prices, though it does not
   disclose its figures. Bakr Binladin is known to have private planes and
   real estate around the world.
   
   It may have cost the Binladins heavily as the crown prince moves to
   take down old alliances and power bases. “You could easily see them
   caught up in a story about corruption and privilege,” Coll said.
   
   ___
   
   Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ayaelb "

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