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Saudi tribal leader arrested for criticising MBS entertainment tsar Turki al-Sheikh

MBS appointed Turki al-Sheikh (L) as Chairman of Entertainment Authority in 2018. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 October, 2019

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An elder of Saudi Arabia's biggest tribe fell foul of MBS's crackdown on free expression after criticising the country's extravagant spending on entertainment spectacles despite high poverty levels.
Saudi-focused human rights group Prisoners of Conscience has said that Saudi authorities arrested senior Saudi tribal leader Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan bin Jahjah bin Humaid in August after he criticised the country's poverty and living conditions.

The group added that he was released shortly after, upon which he tweeted, denying his arrest and incarceration.

According to the group, bin Humaid, one of the elders of the Saudi Otaiba tribe, had written a series of tweets in which he criticised Turki al-Sheikh, the Chairman of the General Authority for Entertainment and a royal advisor close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for spending hundreds of millions of state funds on entertainment events while many in the country live in debt.

The Otaiba tribe are the largest in the kingdom and historically close to the ruling family, many princes being descended from the Otaiba along their maternal line.

Since Mohammed bin Salman became de facto leader in 2017, he has consolidated power in an increasingly small circle of close aides and officials.

Bin Salman appointed Turki al-Sheikh as Chairman of the General Sports Authority in 2017 and  Entertainment Authority in 2018 both by royal decree.

Large scale sports and entertainment initiatives have been key in bin Salman's "Vision 2030" reform programme he boasts will modernise the country and bring in foreign investment in order to diversify the economy away from oil.

Al-Sheikh has previously advocated for poor Saudis to take out interest-free loans in order to buy the expensive tickets for the newly legalised public concerts.

Vision 2030 has been accused of being a programme of superficial reforms, obscuring a brutal increase in authoritarianism led by bin Salman.

The Saudi regime has cracked down on several elders of prominent tribes, having arrested both Prince Nawaf Talal Rashid of the Shammar tribe, and Prince Saud bin Majid al-Duwaish of the Mutair tribe.

Any criticism of the country's leaders or its policies has become punishable by harsh prison sentences, even torture and execution, to a much further degree than any of bin Salman's predecessors.

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