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Saudi Shakeup Shakedown Shakeout

Saudi Shakeup Shakedown Shakeout

In the mid-2000s the Arabic version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire” helped to transform the Saudi-based Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC) into the region’s largest media empire. Now the company’s founder — a millionaire at least a thousand times over — has been forced to surrender the company to the Saudi government in order to secure his freedom.


Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim was one of more than 150 wealthy elites locked up in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton last fall as part of an anti-graft crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, was also released in recent days, reportedly in exchange for a large cash payment.

Three quick thoughts here:

Is this a shakeup or a shakedown? Absent any kind of real judicial review or accountability, it’s hard to avoid the perception that what was billed as an anti-graft campaign is actually a bid to concentrate economic and media power in Prince Mohammed’s hands before he becomes king.

Taking MBC gives the Crown Prince a powerful tool to shape the Saudi public’s perceptions of his ascent to power and his controversial reform agenda.

It’s also a platform to shape regional views as tensions rise. MBC’s main rival is the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, which has always irked the House of Saud. And there’s no love lost between Saudi Arabia and the Qataris at the moment.

So who wants to be a millionaire in today’s Saudi Arabia? To be honest, millionaire is probably the sweet spot — rich enough to be rich, poor enough to stay rich. It’s the billionaires who are in trouble.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

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