DAMASCUS, SYRIA (10:50 PM) – Palestinian top businessman and billionaire Sabih al-Masri has been arrested and incarcerated by Saudi police forces during a visit to the kingdom. This was confirmed by al-Masri’s family to Reuters on Saturday.
The 80-year old al-Masri, who was the founder of the Zara Investment Holding and chairman of the Arab Bank, was arrested after arriving in Saudi Arabia last week after he had arrived there for a business trip. Since the elderly businessman holds Saudi citizenship as well, his arrest was carried out under domestic law enforcement.
Masri’s detention has sent a shock across the country of Jordan, where Masri’s multibillion-dollar investments are a cornerstone of the economy and employ thousands of workers. His Arab Bank is the largest lended of credit in Jordan, and functions as major part of the economy across all of the Middle East and North Africa.
Saudi authorities have so far not revealed any charges nor reasons for which the Palestinian was detained, and al-Masri himself also remains unreachable. Al-Masri was warned repeatedly not to go to the Gulf monarchy, but he had apparently refuted these fears, claiming he had nothing to fear on Saudi soil.
The arrest seemingly follows the pattern of the so-called “anti-corruption purge” issued by Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, who has been the rising star of Saudi state power for years now. Eleven princes, four ministers and several former ministers have been arrested in the past months, in what is seen by many as a crackdown on all possible opposition to the crown prince.
However, many in Jordan see the arrest as little more than a pressure tactic from Riyadh, intended to force the Jordanians to cooperate in the Saudi plan to normalize relations with Israel.
“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’,” Jordanian member of parliament Wafa Bani Mustafa told Al Jazeera last week.
Rami Khouri, professor in the American University of Beirut, has clarified that al-Masri is a “massive figure in Jordan and Palestine.”
“The Jordanian government, when it needs money, turns to the Arab Bank to get some advances (…) So this is a 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 (…)
This is basically another move by 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 (…) an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement (…)
Everybody who has looked into this and heard about what it contains … says that this is a totally unrealistic, one-sided Israeli deal that has been pushed by the Americans and now supported by the Saudis,” professor Khouri explained in an interview with Al-Jazeera.