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Saudi princes arrested for protest against paying utility bills

Eleven princes in Saudi Arabia are paying the price for complaining about having to pay utility bills for the first time in their lives.

They have been arrested for protesting with a palace sit-in, after a royal decree ended the state’s payment of water and electricity bills for royal family members.

Perhaps not the wisest of moves, given the fate of scores of other royal princes arrested for suspected corruption and held in custody in a hotel last year.

Saudi Arabia is under new management, so to speak, since the accession to power of a new Crown Prince.

Mohammed Bin Salman has consolidated his grip on the levers of government since being elevated to heir to the throne, neutralising potential rivals and declaring war on corruption.

MBS, as he is known, is promising the country modernisation and a reformed economy and is enormously popular, particularly with younger generations.

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His arrest and detention of many royal tycoons last year sent shockwaves through the desert kingdom.

Worth billions of dollars between them, they represented the old way of doing things in Saudi Arabia, and an economy operating through patronage.

The message seemed clear. Move with the times or pay the price.

The latest princes to be swept up in MBS’ reforming zeal do not seem to have been listening.

Saudi authorities are coping with a drop in crude oil prices worldwide that has caused a budget deficit estimated at more than $50bn (£37bn).

They are introducing reforms which include reducing energy subsidies and cutting perks to some royal family members.

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The protesting princes were also demanding compensation for a death sentence implemented in 2016 against one of their cousins.

Their arrest followed their refusal to leave the palace and end their protest, said the country’s public prosecutor.

The ascent to power of MBS has led to new tensions in the royal court.

Rule by consensus and counsel is being replaced by government, by one man and a small clique of advisers.

MBS has so far quashed opposition to the changes from royal rivals and Wahhabi clerics.

His greater challenge will be delivering on the promise of change.

His government has raised expectations, particularly among the young.

They want greater freedom and more opportunity and are impatient with what they see as an elite of pampered princes.

They are unlikely to have much sympathy with the 11 protesting princes now languishing in a jail south of Riyadh.

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