Dubai: Hours after the formation of an anti-corruption committee in Saudi Arabia, 11 princes, four current ministers and dozens of former ministers were arrested in a move that left ordinary Saudis surprised, but also pleased that no one was above the law.

Speaking to Gulf News from Riyadh, outspoken Saudi historian and writer Hatoon Al Fasi said, “We are in a state of a shock. Undoubtedly, there is a massive popular [approval of the fact that] the leadership is not leaving out any big name or influential figure [who is] accused of corruption or abuse of power,” she said.

“The arrests of high-profile figures who were considered untouchable has given an overwhelming feeling that justice can find its way, and nobody is above corruption,” said Fasi, who is also an academic.

Among those detained was Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, one of the Middle East’s richest people, who has investments in giant businesses, such as Twitter, Apple, Citigroup, and luxury hotels chains like Four Seasons, Fairmont and Movenpick.

Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah, head of the Saudi National Guard and son of the late King Abdullah was ousted from his post as part of the anti-corruption campaign.

The anti-corruption committee, which was established by a Royal decree, is headed by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Its members include the presidents of the Control and Investigation Board, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the General Auditing Bureau; the Attorney-General at the Public Prosecutor’s Office; and the head of the Presidency of State Security. The aim of the committee is to eliminate corruption at all levels.

Commenting on the arrest of high-level figures in the campaign, Jeddah-based Saudi political scientist Waheed Hamza Hashem said, “We need to look first at who ordered the launch of the campaign.”

“King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, since the days when he was governor of Riyadh, has been firm [when necessary]. He would also be compassionate with those who merited kindness. No king or prince would punish other princes for their actions and mistakes, but with King Salman [those who thought they were] untouchable become touchable.”

The Saudi king has “always believed in the necessity of eliminating corruption, be it administrative, social, economic or financial. Corruption is a very dangerous epidemic that gnaws at the state, the same way cancer does with humans. 

Salman was governor of Riyadh for 48 years, from 1963 to 2011. He was then appointed defence minister. In 2012, he was chosen as a crown prince, and in 2015 he became the king following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah. In June, he appointed his son, Prince Mohammad as Crown Prince.

“Like father like son,” said Hashem. Salman and Mohammad complement each other, and “I strongly believe that no decision is taken without the approval of King Salman, if he was not the main person behind the decision,” he said.

“Salman gave us the feeling that we are in a new era, where there will be no compromises when it comes to the citizens and the homeland,” said Fasi. “This is unusual in our part of the world, where people are not used to seeing influential people held accountable.”

“We feel we are at a cross roads,” Fasi said.