Detention seen warning to Jordan as Saudi Arabia releases tycoon
Sources close to the family of Sabih al-Masri, Jordan’s most influential businessman, say he has returned to his home in Riyadh after being detained by Saudi authorities.
Masri, who is the chairman of the Amman-based Arab Bank, is expected to be permitted to leave Saudi Arabia soon, the sources said on Sunday.
The Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin was reportedly detained in Riyadh last Tuesday before his planned departure after chairing meetings of companies he owns.
“Masri was heading to the airport and they told him to stay where you are and they picked him up,” said an informed source.
The Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment, but a source said “no official charges have been filed against” Masri.
Saudi Arabia reportedly arrests a prominent Jordanian investor as uncertainty grows among foreign businessmen about the future of their investments in the kingdom.
Political sources said the Saudis might have used the investor to put pressure on Jordan’s King Abdullah II not to attend an emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Turkey’s Istanbul on December 13, which discussed US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s “capital.”
The Jordanian monarch, however, attended the event and expressed his opposition to any attempt to change the status quo of Jerusalem al-Quds or its holy sites.
Turkey is hosting an urgent summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to respond to Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s ‘capital.’
Rami Khouri, a professor and senior fellow at the American University of Beirut, said Masri’s arrest is seen by most analysts as “yet one more tactic” by Riyadh “to try and pressure a smaller, more vulnerable Arab country to fall in line with its wishes.”
“The Jordanian government, when it needs money, turns to the Arab Bank to get some advances,” he told the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera.
“So this is massive sign that Saudi Arabia is sending to Jordan, that ‘we are prepared to rattle your whole economic structure’, and to the Palestinians as well, where Masri is a leading investor,” he added.
Khouri said the detention is basically another move by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who effectively runs the country, “to bring Jordan and Palestine in line with the Saudi wishes to have a close working relationship with Israel and the US to push through an alleged peace plan.”
Jordanian lawmaker Wafa Bani Mustafa also accused Riyadh and Abu Dhabi of attempting to target the Jordanian economy until it accepts Washington’s so-called Middle East peace plan.
“Bin Salman and the United Arab Emirates are trying to strangle Jordan’s economy until it agrees to their terms, submit to their leadership in the region, and agree to Trump’s so-called ‘ultimate deal’,” she said.