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Ed Webb

Will the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Relationship Ever Reach a Breaking Point? - 1 views

  • Again and again, the unlikely partners would fall out—usually over the Arab-Israeli conflict, much later over the 9/11 attacks. But the fundamental bargain struck by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then-King Ibn Saud in the waning days of World War II that consummated the U.S.-Saudi relationship 75 years ago would never break
  • lawmakers in oil states such as Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Alaska accuse Saudi Arabia of waging “economic warfare” and have drafted legislation to immediately pull out U.S. troops and furl up a decades-old U.S. security umbrella that has protected the vulnerable Saudi state
  • many in Washington are coming to question the very fundamentals that have underpinned a very special bilateral relationship for 75 years—essentially, U.S. security to ensure the free flow of Saudi oil and Saudi support for U.S. designs in the Middle East
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  • Today’s tensions stem, in many ways, from the original foundations of the odd-couple relationship: an oil-for security bargain that always sought, but never fully managed, to bridge the divide between a liberal democracy and a conservative religious monarchy
  • Some experts believe U.S.-Saudi ties will ultimately weather the storm, as they always have, because of the need for a large, wealthy, and anti-Iran anchor for U.S. interests in the Middle East
  • “But we don’t need the Saudis anymore—this comes in a very different geopolitical environment than previous crises.”
  • Saudi Arabia was one of the only countries in the world that continued to receive U.S. Lend-Lease aid after the end of the war.
  • essentially underwriting the security of an oil-rich desert sheikdom to keep oil supplies flowing—and to keep the Soviets out of the Middle East.
  • Roosevelt had met Ibn Saud hoping for Saudi support for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, which the king vehemently opposed, and the U.S. president—in Saudi eyes—gave his word not to press the matter. But Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, eventually supported the creation of Israel, sowing years of distrust and cries of betrayal in Saudi Arabia
  • “In my conversations with the king, the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince, they favored the effort to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But they wanted more: They wanted us to push on Iran’s actions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and we didn’t do that.”
  • The Iranian revolution, as well as an assault that same year on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, terrified Saudi leadership, who saw how vulnerable their own position was. The revolution, by removing the shah and creating permanent enmity with the United States, left Saudi Arabia as America’s main linchpin in the Middle East, all the bad blood from the oil embargo notwithstanding
  • Fearful of being toppled by religious radicals, Saudi leaders embraced a much more conservative line and empowered hard-line religious leaders in their own country, the first steps toward a decadeslong program to export the austere Wahhabi brand of Islam particular to the kingdom. Soon, wealthy Saudis, including one Osama bin Laden, started funding the Muslim mujahideen who were fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that began the same year as the Iranian revolution. Two decades later, that Saudi lurch toward a harsher official line on religion would end up creating the biggest crisis yet in the special relationship.
  • “The relationship never really recovered from 9/11,”
  • the George W. Bush administration, despite vehement Saudi objections, decided to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Saudis feared that would open the door to greater Iranian influence on their doorstep, as in fact happened.
  • In the end, the United States and Saudi Arabia patched up the dispute, and the oil embargo ended by the spring of 1974. But the scars it left were deep and long-lasting, permanently damaging Saudi Arabia’s image in American popular opinion, and leaving deep-rooted fears that the Saudis could and would use their oil weapon to damage U.S. interests—a fear that has persisted even though the nature of the Saudi oil threat has changed.
  • “King Abdullah was very respectful and liked Obama personally, but there were things they couldn’t understand,” said Westphal, who was present for three of Obama’s record four trips to Saudi Arabia. “‘Why are you supporting Maliki, who is essentially handing over his country to the Iranians? How can you not depose Assad?’”
  • Since 1979, Saudi leaders had seen Iran as the gravest threat to the region and their own security, and U.S. efforts to reach a nuclear deal while seemingly letting Iran continue its destabilizing behavior in the region unsettled the Saudis.
  • “There’s no question that the Arab Spring unsettled the U.S. relationship with the Saudis. For them, the U.S. response [to calls for reform in the Arab world] was way too sympathetic, and the relationship cooled,”
  • Saudi leaders famously rolled out the red carpet, and a glowing orb, for Trump’s first overseas trip as president. It seemed a surprising about-face after Trump’s attacks on Muslims, and repeated attacks on Saudi Arabia, on the campaign trail, when he accused the kingdom of carrying out 9/11, criticized it for sponging off American protection, and threatened an economic boycott. Saudi leaders were happy to overlook Trump’s comments, eager to forge ties with an untested and unorthodox president before other foreign leaders could. “Washington is like Rome in the Roman Empire, and we are like a satellite state—you pay homage to the emperor,” Shihabi said. “You could put a monkey in the White House, and we’d pay homage.”
  • The playbook that has reliably worked since 1945 to ground the bilateral ties in personal relationships with the president now seems to be backfiring. Mohammed bin Salman, reviled by many in Congress for his alleged role in the Khashoggi killing, as well as other continued human rights abuses inside Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, is seen as being exceptionally close to Kushner and Trump. Riding the coattails of a historically unpopular, already-impeached president isn’t the best way to improve Saudi Arabia’s image.
  • Despite decades of close economic ties and military and counterterrorism cooperation, Saudi Arabia never seemed to plant deep roots in the United States that would institutionalize the relationship beyond kings, generals, and presidents. This meant when tensions flared up between the two countries, Riyadh didn’t have many outside allies to come to its defense in Washington
  • Mohammed bin Salman’s foreign-policy excesses: the disastrous war in Yemen, the bizarre virtual kidnapping of Lebanon’s prime minister to pressure Iran and Hezbollah, and an embargo on Qatar, its small neighbor and a key U.S. military partner. At home, there was the regular drumbeat of reports on human rights violations, plus a $100 billion shakedown on wealthy political rivals to consolidate power under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign.
  • As long as they’ve been a country—they’re so young—they really don’t know what their place in the world would be like without the backing of the United States,”
  • Unlike in 1973, when Saudi Arabia used the oil weapon to jack up oil prices and hurt the United States, this time crashing oil prices did the trick. U.S. shale producers need oil prices above $40 a barrel to break even; the Russian-Saudi price war sent the price of oil to $25 and then into the single digits, ensuring a wave of bankruptcies and economic hardship from Texas to North Dakota.
  • “The Saudis have a deep problem with the Democrats, and that’s been clear for a long time. Now they have spoiled their relationship with Republicans,”
  • In the summer of 2019, when Iranian attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf threatened the flow of oil, Trump’s response was to tell allies such as Japan and South Korea to protect their own ships, questioning why the United States should continue to carry out a mission it’s done for decades unless other countries coughed up cash. That fall, key Saudi oil facilities were attacked, allegedly by Iran, knocking out 5 percent of global oil production in a matter of minutes. The U.S. response, other than a Trump tweet, was to do nothing.
  • The bitter recriminations during this spring’s oil price war, coming on the heels of the Khashoggi murder, the continued war in Yemen, and other Saudi missteps, give many observers reason to believe that the relationship is due for a fundamental rethink.
  • as long as the United States continues to view Iran as a major threat, close relations with Saudi Arabia will have a strong appeal
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia Pleased With Morsi's Fall - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia hosted Arab Muslim Brotherhood exiles during the repression of the 1950 and 1960s. They came not only from Egypt but also from Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries where they had been prosecuted. Brotherhood cadres played a pivotal role in Saudi educational institutions and later the transnational organizations set up by King Faisal to counter the spread of Arab nationalism and leftist movements. Saudis used the exiled Islamists as tools to weaken such movements and undermine their credibility, while emphasizing their un-Islamic character. During the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s, Saudis used the worldwide networks established by the Brotherhood to inflame the imagination of its youth and channel aid and weapons. Yet Saudi Arabia never allowed the Brotherhood to establish branches there as they did in other Arab countries and in the West.
  • Educated urban Saudis were attracted to the Brotherhood discourse and impressed by its ability to form civil society organizations, posing as charitable and welfare services. Individuals frustrated with the Wahhabi-Salafist tradition that forbids political action and unconditionally obeys rulers, found in the Brotherhood an authentic discourse capable of mobilizing society. The ideological vacuum that resulted from the death of Arab nationalism and socialism after 1967 was quickly filled by political Islam. To counter the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi religious establishment condemned it as a divisive force and accused it of undermining people’s creeds. Saudi Arabia began to curb the activities of the Brotherhood after the latter condemned the Saudis for inviting foreign troops to expel then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990.
  • After 9/11, suspicion of the Brotherhood evolved into outright hostility. Prince Nayif accused the Brotherhood of radicalizing Saudi youth and held it responsible for the terrorism wave that swept the country from 2003 to 2008. Such accusations were unfounded, as most jihadis operating in Saudi Arabia grounded their actions in the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century preacher whose tradition has been dominant in Saudi Arabia up to the present.
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  • unlike official Saudi Salafists, who still believe that democracy is a Western import that promises to bring atheists, secularists and leftists to power, the Brotherhood engaged in elections, won seats in parliaments and even came to power in Tunisia and Egypt. Surely, then, Islam and democracy are not so incompatible. This in itself threatens the foundations of Saudi rule, which is still based on absolute kingship, difficult to justify from an Islamic point of view. The Brotherhood therefore exposes Saudi claims to legitimacy and undermines their credibility as lawful Muslim rulers.
  • The competition over the hearts and minds of Muslims in the growing global Muslim society worries Saudi Arabia, which seeks to monopolize these platforms.
  • Saudi Arabia feared that Morsi would make Egypt drift toward Iran, with whom Saudi Arabia competes for hegemony at the regional level.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood had already drifted toward Qatar rather than Iran, thus allowing this small but wealthy Gulf country to undermine Saudi designs for the region and split the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries over the desired outcome of the Arab uprisings.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and the UAE Could Spoil Oman's Smooth Transition by Fomenting Regional Ins... - 0 views

  • Oman remains vulnerable to both foreign and domestic sources of instability as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seek to expand their regional influence. Potential causes of domestic unrest—including high unemployment, budget deficits, and dwindling oil reserves—lack clear-cut solutions. Sultan Haitham faces multiple challenges even without the threat of foreign meddling, yet Oman’s neighbors may view the death of Qaboos as a unique opportunity to advance their own expansionist agendas.
  • Oman resisted Saudi Arabia’s attempts to use the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a tool to serve the Saudis’ foreign-policy agenda, most visibly when Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs publicly rejected King Abdullah’s plan to deepen the GCC into a Gulf Union in 2013, and was the only GCC state to not participate in the Saudi-led military incursion against Yemen that began in 2015.
  • Sultan Haitham comes to power at a time when the Trump administration has repeatedly signaled its support for Saudi Arabia and antipathy toward Iran. The belated naming of low-ranking U.S. officials to attend the official ceremony honoring Sultan Qaboos was widely interpreted as a slight against the Omanis; the U.K., in contrast, sent both Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pay their respects.
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  • Saudi leaders likely hope that Sultan Haitham will be more amenable to a Saudi-led Gulf, and without U.S. support, Oman may feel pressure to acquiesce or face potential repercussions. Omani officials have privately expressed concerns that Oman could be the next target of a Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade
  • Despite precipitating the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has used its military presence there to declare its intention to build a pipeline through the Mahra region and construct an oil port on the Yemeni coast. Saudi Arabia currently ships oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, whereas the proposed pipeline would allow direct access to the Indian Ocean.
  • Mahra has close links to the adjacent Dhofar region of Oman, which has long viewed the province as an informal buffer from the instability in other parts of Yemen. Sultan Qaboos offered aid as well as dual citizenship to residents of Mahra as a means of eliminating the potential for another conflict resembling the Dhofar War of 1963-1976, which drew cross-border support from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen operating from Mahra into Dhofar
  • Inhabitants of Mahra have expressed frustration with the presence of both the Saudis and Emiratis, given that these kingdoms’ alleged foes—the Houthis as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—are not present in Mahra
  • The UAE has taken control of the Yemeni island of Socotra, building a military base in a unique ecosystem nominally protected by UNESCO. The UAE is also building bases in Eritrea and Somaliland as part of a plan to develop a “string of ports” that will allow it to project power and escape possible pressure from Iran in the Persian Gulf.
  • Other Emirati ambitions include the Musandam Peninsula, an Omani enclave that forms the narrowest point in the Strait of Hormuz. The inhabitants of the peninsula have close ties to the UAE, as Musandam connects geographically to the emirates of Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah, rather than Oman. Oman’s control of the strategic chokepoint reflects the sultanate’s history as an empire whose territory once stretched from southern Pakistan to Zanzibar. 
  • The border between Oman and the UAE was only formally demarcated in 2008, but Omanis see a circle of potential threats arising from Emirati activity in or possible designs on Musandam, Mahra, and Socotra.
  • the UAE may feel that Oman’s new sultan may be more receptive to alignment with Emirati objectives than his predecessor
  • Oman has failed to significantly diversify its economy
  • As in many oil-dependent economies, unemployment is high, especially among young people
  • During the popular uprising of 2011, which brought thousands of Omanis to the street for the first time, the government used its nest egg to pay for a massive expansion of the government payroll.
  • there are no available resources to try to finance a transition away from oil, and the low price of oil has further impeded the government’s efforts to meet its obligations
Ed Webb

The Limits of Mohammad bin Salman's Vision - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Americans are being told, by their leading pundits and their government, that the future Saudi king is a bold reformer with his country’s—and the world’s—best interests at heart
  • For every highly publicized reform he’s instituted, like allowing women to drive (a reform that doesn’t actually address the deeper mistreatment of Saudi women), Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has taken the country in the opposite direction in other ways, like his severe crackdown on free speech and his brutal suppression of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority—to say nothing of the myriad atrocities he’s perpetrated in Yemen
  • economic vision likewise blends flashy elements, like robot citizens and entire new cities, with the introduction of neoliberal austerity measures that will hurt the Saudi people (who are already struggling with high unemployment)
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  • He doesn’t want any competition, any counter-opinions, any criticism. So he’s almost shut down everybody, and he’s moving ahead with his reform. When he arrested intellectuals last September, it was meant to silence everybody. The purge on corruption was planned to make everyone dependent on his mercy. If he succeeds, he will succeed alone. If not, maybe he will include the Saudi people in his reforms. I wish he could do that today, but right now he has all the power and the international community is not pressuring him on human rights.
  • selected reforms aimed at certain purposes, but not necessarily towards developing human capital or investing in people, or women, at large
  • These reforms are not targeting the root causes of restrictions on women, but are selected to portray certain types of reforms that can be promoted in international media
  • He’s raising expectations to riskily high levels. If in two, three, five years nothing significant has really changed for the prospects of individual people looking to get ahead, they may begin to question whether Mohammad bin Salman is really the revolutionary he claims to be. We’ve seen a lot of his supporters here in Washington buying into that revolutionary, Arab Spring-like figure-of-change image, embracing his top-down approach without pausing to think about the extent to which there is a bottom-up counterpart
  • meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday was punctuated by a particularly uncomfortable exchange in which Trump went into detail about the $12.5 billion in new U.S. weapons the prince agreed to buy and then said to the prince, “that’s peanuts for you.” Ulrichsen suggested that the scene would not play well in Saudi Arabia: I think if I were watching yesterday’s press conference with Donald Trump, I would have been quite dismayed to have seen a U.S. president treat his Saudi counterpart as if he were just a source of opportunities for the U.S. Some of the president’s tenor and demeanor was quite remarkable. Khashoggi agreed that Trump’s performance was not helpful for the crown prince: President Trump is wrong when he says that money is “peanuts” to us. Saudi Arabia has a serious poverty problem—money is not “peanuts” to us. To spend billions of dollars on military equipment is a serious thing. Today the Saudi Shura Council is talking about 35 or 40 percent unemployment—the official figure is 12 percent. So as much as Donald Trump is concerned about providing jobs for Americans, Mohammad bin Salman should be concerned about providing jobs for Saudis.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and Turkey Falter Over Egypt - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • After a lengthy historical impasse, common strategic, regional and economic interests brought about an unusual partnership between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Relations were strengthening under the pressure of the Arab uprisings, in which both countries were destined to coordinate their support for the Syrian rebels and counterbalance Iran’s expansion in the region. Yet, in the wake of the Egyptian coup, this partnership appears to be strained as the two countries’ visions collided over the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
  • it is not clear whether this current impasse will have long-lasting negative consequences for cooperation between the two countries. Saudi Arabia needs Turkey in Syria, while Turkey remains eager to attract more Saudi investment, estimated at more than $1.9 billion
  • The Turkish press' criticism of the Saudi position in Egypt — this time originating with pro-Turkish government sources — replicated what had already been noticeable in the secular or independent press. Turkey is one country in the region where Islamists, secularists, leftists and liberals all concur on a negative image of Saudi Arabia, with each doubting its policies. Perhaps this is only replicated in post-revolution Tunisia.
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  • On the Saudi side, while the Turkish-Saudi partnership is officially celebrated as a great new strategic alliance, the Saudi press occasionally launches attacks that undermine this veneer of cooperation. Accusations that “Sultan Erdogan” longs for the return of the Ottoman caliphate regularly appeared in the Saudi sponsored pan-Arab press. Such attacks are often backed by appeals to Arabism and the historical animosity between Turkey and the Arab people.
  • More ferocious attacks are clothed in religion, with Turkey’s Islamism mocked as an aberration that remains tolerant of alcohol consumption and debauchery in the red light districts of Istanbul. Turkey’s Sufi tradition stands at the opposite end of the dominant Saudi Salafist religious outlook. Its half-hearted appeal to Sharia is contrasted with Saudi commitment to Islamic law. Such attacks echo similar ones that flourished more than a hundred years ago when Wahhabi expansion in Arabia and constant harassment of pilgrimages prompted the Ottoman sultan to reassert his authority over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Ironically, in 1818 he relied on the Egyptian army under the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha to rid him of this menace and deliver the Saudi rulers and their religious aides to Istanbul where they were executed. While this is history, the memory seems to linger in the minds of religiously-inclined Saudis when they denounce Turkey's version of Islam for its laxity.
  • When you take oil out of the equation, it is unlikely to find a sensible country that would aspire to a Saudi model of governance.
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.
  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

How a diplomatic crisis among Gulf nations led to fake news campaign in the United States - 0 views

  • it’s not just Kremlin-produced disinformation that Americans may have stumbled upon recently. Browsing Facebook and Twitter — and even just perusing the magazine rack at their local Walmart — they may have also been exposed to propaganda supporting the ambitious goals of two oil-rich Arab Gulf countries
  • when Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched a boycott and blockade of the tiny peninsula state of Qatar last year, organizations with ties to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi tried something new: They worked to sway American public opinion through online and social media campaigns, bringing a complicated, distant conflict among three Washington allies to US shores
  • As they took steps against Doha, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also initiated propaganda efforts in the US aimed at weakening Washington’s alliance with Qatar — which hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East — while also enhancing their own images.
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  • The Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), a pro-Saudi lobby group not officially tied to the Saudi government, paid $2.6 million last year to the now-defunct, Washington-based lobbying firm the Podesta Group for public affairs services that included running the anti-Qatar website and its associated social media properties
  • Along with painting Qatar as a terror-friendly nation, The Qatar Insider encouraged the US to remove its Al Udeid Air Base, which is home to the forward headquarters of the US Central Command, from Qatar and lobbied against Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.
  • Last fall, a film billed as an “educational documentary” called “Qatar: A Dangerous Alliance” appeared online and was distributed to guests at an event hosted by the conservative Hudson Institute that featured Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump and the ex-chairman of Breitbart News
  • when Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visited the US in March, a magazine bearing his face and celebrating his reign appeared at 200,000 outlets across the country. The Saudi Embassy denied knowledge of the magazine, and the company that published it, National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., denied receiving guidance from the Saudis. Citing employees of American Media Inc, The New York Times later reported that the magazine was an attempt by the publisher’s CEO to win business in Saudi Arabia. Still, there was evidence that the Saudi Embassy and advisers to the Saudi royal family had received advanced copies of the publication, hinting that they were involved in its creation and fawning tone
  • Seeing Trump’s hostility toward Iran mirroring their own, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to strengthen their relationship with the former reality TV host when he took office, despite his harsh campaign-trail criticisms of Islam and Saudis (who, he once said, “want women as slaves and to kill gays”). In May, The New York Times reported that an emissary of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, held a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. ahead of the 2016 elections offering their support to Trump as well as social media help in winning the election.
  • “If you asked the average American about the Gulf and they see these commercials, they will not be able to tell the difference,” he said. “And for those who do know the difference, they will remember that Saudi Arabia, not Qatar, had its citizens participating in the 9/11 attacks.”
  • Qatar — or, at best, its friends — has been involved in the hacking and leaking of emails designed to embarrass the UAE and reveal its role in trying to influence the Trump campaign. Qatar has increased its spending on lobbyists while also trying to soften its image by wooing American Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, which previously called for Qatar to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. And in May, Qatar flexed its soft power muscles when it offered to pay to keep the Washington, DC, metro open after a Capitals playoff game.
  • “Instead of saying one country is better than the other, everyone looks really, really horrible,” he said. “It really raises questions about what kind of partners these countries are for the United States.”
Ed Webb

Will MBS Bankrupt Saudi Arabia? - Middle East News - Haaretz.com - 0 views

  • five years in and with little progress in sight, cracks are appearing in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s flagship project to diversify the oil-driven Saudi economy. Neom’s former employees raised concerns that bringing the giga-project out of the realm of science fiction might never happen. Architecture experts have called it “insane.” Sources inside the royal circle no longer shy away from lashing out at MBS’ ever-changing ideas, “mood swings,” “terrible tempers” and fear-based leadership.
  • “The general concern is this will turn out like for the Shah of Iran, developing schemes that become incredibly detached from reality and no one will tell him to refocus,” a source familiar with the dynamics of Saudi Arabia’s royal family told me, on condition of anonymity
  • the risk of the Crown Prince ending up in an echo chamber cemented by yes-men. Power consolidation under MBS is unprecedented in Saudi Arabia’s recent history, moving the kingdom’s system from “one of consensus within the family to one-man rule.”
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  • Leaks reveal insiders’ growing uneasiness, which points to the elephant-in-the-room question: Will MBS’ grandiose venture bankrupt the kingdom?
  • Saudi private investors will also be encouraged to pitch in during a potential public listing of Neom in 2024. That raises questions about how consensual this private investment will be. Indeed, Saudi Arabia reportedly “bullied” several of the kingdom’s wealthiest families to become cornerstone investors out of “patriotic duty” in the IPO of Saudi energy firm Aramco in 2019.
  • a large chunk of Saudi money carefully set aside for decades to fund the transition to a post-oil era will pay for Neom's astronomical price tag. A bet on an unproven vision
  • “Infrastructure spending is like doing lines of cocaine; you have to do bigger and bigger and bigger lines just to feel high,”
  • Neom’s initial burst of economic activity, if unsustainable at a similar pace, would simply be "stealing" future economic benefits to create an illusion of growth right now
  • perhaps the motive is not sustainable growth at all, but creating what Pettis calls a "pyramid effect." This would be an attempt to copy monarchs of ancient Egypt who redistributed wealth to the population through jobs – paid laborers built Egyptian pyramids, not slaves. Although Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth is already redistributed to ordinary Saudis through public-sector jobs and subsidies, a large tranche is retained and stored in its sovereign wealth funds and U.S. Treasuries. In theory, flushing Saudi citizens with cash would stimulate the local non-oil economy. But in practice, the pyramid effect is likely to first and foremost cause economic leakages, as the kingdom imports most of what it consumes locally, including labor, despite the “Saudification” of the labor market being one of Vision 2030’s key priorities. Migrant workers account for about 77 percent of private sector jobs. At Neom, highly paid Western consultants are toiling to match MBS’ demands, and Asian low-income workers are building it, remitting Saudi money home.
  • Riyadh sweetened the project’s launch party with a flurry of social reforms, such as lifting the ban on women driving. (Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to lift this kind of ban, and it didn’t do so as a principled stand on behalf of women’s rights.) The idea was not only creating a buzz among investors and the global public, but whipping up aspirational momentum among Saudis.
  • 60 skyscrapers that were built in Riyadh’s financial center are still standing largely empty.
  • MBS, high on his visionary self-branding and his concentration of power, may have to pay the costs of bankruptcy – whether by admitting full responsibility or via a renewed deployment of decidedly imperious and despotic tactics to crush dissent. The latter path is, of course, what the late Shah of Iran chose, with notorious results.
Ed Webb

'We Misled You': How the Saudis Are Coming Clean on Funding Terrorism - POLITICO Magazine - 1 views

  • one top Saudi official admitted to me, “We misled you.” He explained that Saudi support for Islamic extremism started in the early 1960s as a counter to Nasserism—the socialist political ideology that came out of the thinking of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser—which threatened Saudi Arabia and led to war between the two countries along the Yemen border. This tactic allowed them to successfully contain Nasserism, and the Saudis concluded that Islamism could be a powerful tool with broader utility.
  • their support for extremism was a way of resisting the Soviet Union, often in cooperation with the United States, in places like Afghanistan in the 1980s
  • Later it was deployed against Iranian-supported Shiite movements in the geopolitical competition between the two countries.
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  • The new leadership, like their predecessors, blames Iran for regional instability and the many conflicts going on.
  • as the Saudis described it to me, this new approach to grappling with their past is part of the leadership’s effort to make a new future for their country, including a broad-based economic reform program
  • “We did not own up to it after 9/11 because we feared you would abandon or treat us as the enemy,” the Saudi senior official conceded. “And we were in denial.”
  • it is an open question as to whether the Saudi people have been sufficiently prepared at all relevant levels in terms of education and skills to compete in the world economy, as they will need to do in a modernized economy. If not, social tensions and unrest may arise among those who are not prepared to compete.
  • For many years, I was accustomed to Saudi officials being vague and ambiguous. Now, our interlocutors were straightforward and business-like in discussing their past and their future plans. In past decades, my impression had been that the Saudis did not work hard. Now a team of highly educated, young ministers works 16- to 18-hour days on refining and implementing a plan to transform the country. The plan is the brainchild of Mohammad bin Salman and focuses both on domestic and regional fronts. Salman and his ministers exude commitment and energy.
  • Riyadh views modernization as the vehicle through which the Saudi state, at long last, can confront and defeat extremism, foster a dynamic private sector and master the looming economic challenges
  • Their Vision 2030 and National Transformation Program 2020 focus on shrinking the country's enormous bureaucracy, reducing and ultimately removing subsidies, expanding the private sector including attracting investment from abroad by becoming more transparent and accountable and by removing red tape.
  • Israel and Saudi Arabia share a similar threat perception regarding Iran and ISIL, and that old hostility need not preclude greater cooperation between the two states going forward
  • On some levels, the prospects for planned reforms are more promising in Saudi Arabia than they are in most other parts of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has oil reserves and is not roiled in conflict: two important advantages
  • if the reform effort does work, Saudi Arabia is poised to become more powerful than before, enabling it to play a bigger role in regional dynamics including in balancing Iran and perhaps negotiating about ending the civil wars in the region. A true change in Saudi Arabia’s policy of supporting Islamist extremists would be a turning point in the effort to defeat them
Ed Webb

Sovereignty for cash? The Saudi-Maldives island deal making waves | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • It’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with more than a million scantily clad foreigners enjoying its glistening white beaches and crystal clear waters each year.Later this month, the Indian Ocean state of the Maldives – particularly popular with honeymooners – is scheduled to play host to a very different kind of visitor when King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia arrives for official talks and a holiday. Top of the agenda in talks with the government in Male, the Maldives small, cramped capital, is likely to be a $10bn Saudi investment project, believed to include the Saudi purchase or long-term lease of a string of 19 of the island state’s coral atolls.
  • “international sea sports, mixed development, residential high-class development, many tourist resorts, many airports and other industries"
  • “The plans would allow a foreign power control of one of the country’s 26 atolls. It amounts to creeping colonialism.”
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  • The opposition says part of the rational behind the multi-billion dollar Saudi development could be a plan by Riyadh to establish a staging post and special economic zone, complete with port facilities, for oil and gas exports to Asia, particularly to China.
  • with climate change and rising sea levels, there is a very real possibility that the majority of the island nation’s land area will be underwater by the end of the century
  • Abdulla Yameen, the current president – who has strongly denied allegations about government corruption made recently by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network - has stressed the need for economic growth and sees the giant Saudi investment as key to future prosperity.“We do not need cabinet meetings under water,” says the government. “We need development.”
  • There are also fears that the development, with its large-scale building work and dredging activities, will threaten irreparable damage to what is one of the world’s most pristine but vulnerable ecological regions.
  • Islam in the Maldives has traditionally blended elements of Sufism and other religions; in recent years, a stricter form of Saudi-style "Wahhabism" has predominated. There are concerns that a number of people from the Maldives are believed to have joined the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.
  • The Saudis have pledged to build what they describe as 10 "world class" mosques in the archipelago and have donated $100,000 for scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. 
  • In early 2016, the government in Male cut diplomat ties with Iran
  • The growing ties between Riyadh and Male have been causing some concern in the region, particularly in India.Last year the Binladin Group, the troubled Saudi construction conglomerate, was awarded – for an undisclosed sum – a contract to build a new international airport in the Maldives. A previous agreement with an Indian company to build the airport was terminated; it is likely the Maldives will have to pay millions of dollars in compensation. 
  • Analysts say the Asia trip is about extending Saudi influence and diversifying the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and gas and investing in the region.
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to restore ties after China mediation - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia and Iran announced an agreement in China on Friday to resume relations more than seven years after severing ties, a major breakthrough in a bitter rivalry that has long divided the Middle East.
  • part of an initiative by Chinese President Xi Jinping aimed at “developing good neighborly relations” between Iran and Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi Arabia accused Iran of sowing strife in its minority-Shiite communities, which have long complained of discrimination and neglect from authorities in Riyadh. A month after Nimr’s execution, the kingdom put 32 people on trial on charges of spying for Iran, including 30 Saudi Shiites. Fifteen were ultimately given death sentences.
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  • Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016 after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked and burned by Iranian protesters, angered by the kingdom’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr. The cleric had emerged as a leading figure in protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, a Shiite-majority region in the Sunni-majority nation.
  • Tensions reached new heights in 2019 after a wave of Houthi drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, knocking out half of the kingdom’s oil output. At the time, U.S. officials said they believed the assault was launched from Iranian territory. Tehran denied involvement.
  • Yemen has enjoyed a rare reprieve from fighting since last April, when a United Nations-sponsored truce went into effect. Though the truce expired in October, the peace has largely held, and back-channel talks between the Houthis and the Saudis have resumed.Story continues below advertisementThese negotiations “are also a reflection of Saudi-Iranian rapprochement,” said Maysaa Shuja al-Deen, a senior researcher at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
  • The Yemeni Embassy in Washington responded defiantly to Friday’s announcement, tweeting that “The rogue Iranian regime is still sending lethal weapons to the terrorist Houthi militia in Yemen, and the Yemeni embassy in Tehran is still occupied.”
  • The Houthis, meanwhile, appeared to approve of the agreement. “The region needs the restoration of normal relations between its countries, so that the Islamic nation can recover its security lost as a result of foreign interventions,” spokesman Mohamed Abdel Salam tweeted.
  • Iran and Saudi Arabia had been exploring a rapprochement since 2021, participating in talks hosted by Iraq and Oman.
  • “Facing a dead end in nuclear negotiations with the United States, and shunned by the European Union because of its arms exports to Russia … Iran has scored a major diplomatic victory,” said Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
  • China’s well-publicized role in the deal was probably intended to send a message to major powers, including the United States, “that the hub for the Middle East is shifting,”
  • Beijing has largely avoided intervening politically in the Middle East, focusing instead on deepening economic ties. China is the largest importer of energy from the region, and “there is a lot of interest” among major players including Saudi Arabia and Iran in securing long-term access to Chinese markets
  • “China has truly arrived as a strategic actor in the Gulf,”
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia makes friends with an old enemy - Iraq - Middle East - Stripes - 0 views

  • With the extremist militants driven out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is preparing to reopen the land crossing to trade this year because of the latest conflict that's dominating the region: its proxy war with Iran. In a stark reversal of policy, the kingdom has identified Iraq as a timely ally in curbing the influence of its Shiite enemy
  • Saudi Arabia has also employed other soft power tactics such as offering to build a sports stadium and government-backed broadcaster MBC recently announced a dedicated channel for Iraq. Clerics in the kingdom have been toning down their anti-Shiite rhetoric
  • Saudi Arabia's aim is to prop up a government in Baghdad whose authority has been challenged by Iran-sponsored militias and bring the nation back firmly into the Arab fold
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  • Iraq has been dominated by non-Arab Iran after the majority Shiites took over power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia now considers Iraq as a potential bulwark against Iran rather than a puppet state controlled by Tehran
  • On a state visit to Riyadh last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi oversaw the signing of 13 agreements whereby Saudi Arabia pledged to pump a billion dollars into its neighbor's economy
  • As part of its outreach to Iraq, Saudi Arabia has also softened its position on Shiite Islam, long seen as antithetical to the official Wahhabi creed of the kingdom. In a nod to its often restive Shiite minority mainly in the east, Riyadh plans to open a consulate in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, to which many Saudi Shiites travel for pilgrimage
  • The Islamic Republic exported more than $1.66 billion worth of tomatoes alone to Iraq in 2017 and is the country's top source of everything from pig lard to human hair. Iran jumped from the Arab nation's fifth biggest non-oil exporter in 2016 to its biggest in 2017, bypassing China. Iraqi supermarket shelves are often stocked with cheap Turkish and Iranian products
  • "I don't think there's any illusion in Riyadh that Iraq will sever relations with Iran,"
  • After Iran cut off power to Iraq because of payment disputes last year, Saudi Arabia offered to sell it to Baghdad at a fraction of Iranian prices
  • The Saudis "have been relatively successful" in Iraq, said James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute. "They need, however, to follow up on promises and capitalize on the fact that, unlike the Iranians, they have the cash to do so."
  • Still, Saudi Arabia continues to detain and even execute Shiites in large numbers on suspicion of spying for Iran, among other charges
Ed Webb

US troops return to Saudi Arabia after 16 years - 0 views

  • American troops are coming back 16 years after they left Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud announced on Saturday. According to press reports hundreds of American troops are deploying to Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh as tensions spike in the region between Iran and its allies and the Donald Trump administration and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia. The deployment of American troops in the kingdom has never been popular with Saudis. It was an early complaint of Osama bin Laden and comes as the Saudis' Arab allies are deserting the crown prince’s war in Yemen.
  • US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt arranged the construction of the first American air base in Saudi Arabia during World War II at Dhahran in the kingdom’s Eastern Province. John F. Kennedy ordered the first deployment of combat aircraft to Dhahran to deter Egyptian air attacks on Saudi Arabia during the civil war in Yemen in the early 1960s. George H. W. Bush sent a half million Americans to defend the kingdom in 1990 in Operation Desert Shield and then to liberate Kuwait in Desert Storm. US, UK and French airmen stayed in Dhahran after the cease-fire in 1991 and later enforced the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. Iranian-supported Saudi Shiite terrorists attacked the base's Khobar Towers housing complex in 1996, killing 19 American soldiers
  • In 2003 the Americans left, to the great relief of King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. Operation Southern Watch was over and Saddam Hussein was gone. The sore point of foreign troops inside the conservative country was removed. Bringing the Americans back now underscores how deeply concerned the king is about the regional situation
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  •  The new deployment makes the United States a direct combatant in the Yemen war if Patriot missiles there are used to defend against Houthi attacks. The risk of miscalculation and escalating violence is growing. The crown prince may even believe that he can escape from the toxic consequences of his reckless behavior through a bigger crisis, even a regional conflict.
Ed Webb

Is This Saudi Arabia's Laboratory for Religious Influence in Europe? | Fast Forward | OZY - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s increasing influence in the southeastern European nation that’s sparking a debate over whether Riyadh is attempting to reshape the country’s traditionally liberal Islam with its own ultraconservative Wahhabi version. It’s a charge Saudi Arabia has faced in the past in Asia and Africa. Is Bosnia and Herzegovina, beset by weak state institutions, a struggling economy and a history of foreign influence, now emerging as Saudi Arabia’s laboratory for religious influence in Europe?
  • In just 2017, Riyadh invested $22 million in Bosnia — a significant figure in a country with a GDP of $20 billion. From Sarajevo’s two biggest shopping malls — the Sarajevo City Center and BBI — to Poljine Hills, a luxury apartment complex on the outskirts of the capital where house prices go up to $555,000, Saudi Arabia is behind some of the biggest infrastructure projects today dotting the Bosnian landscape. Both malls come with strict rules about not serving alcohol or pork products.
  • Bosnia, which has the world’s highest youth unemployment rate — 55.5 percent, according to the World Bank
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  • 27 percent of Bosnian respondents said they had a “mostly negative” opinion of the Saudi role in their nation. Only 10 percent had a “mostly positive” view of Riyadh’s influence. The numbers for Saudi Arabia are worse than Bosnian perceptions of influence from the U.S., Russia and Turkey — the other foreign countries respondents were asked about.
  • the growing flow of tourists to Bosnia suggests an increasingly organic interest from Saudi Arabian citizens — and not a state-sponsored plan. In Europe, only Albania and Kosovo have a higher percentage of Muslims in their population — 50 percent of Bosnians are Muslim. “The Saudis find Bosnia cheap, culturally close and not too far to the sea,” says Sarajevo-based researcher and writer Harun Karčić. “The idea that they spread radical Islam between sightseeing, shopping and partying is ridiculous.”
  • During the war in the 1990s, thousands of foreign mujahedeen came to Bosnia to fight (and some stayed) against Croatia- and Serbia-backed rebels. Several Bosnian Muslims went to study in Saudi Arabia. Even then, though, Bosnia took steps to shield itself from extremist influences — including from supposed friends in the war, such as Saudi Arabia. It banned a Saudi charity organization accused of spreading terrorist propaganda.
  • Around 300 Bosnians had joined the ranks of foreign fighters for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, among the highest per capita rates from any nation. Now, many of them have indicated they want to return, and Bosnia is grappling with the question of what to do with those former fighters.
  • “There has clearly been a conservative turn among Bosnian Muslims,” says Jasmin Mujanović, a Bosnian political scientist. “But it is rather connected to the country’s poor economic situation and postwar trauma from the genocide than to the Middle East.”
  • A 2018 report by the Sarajevo-based research organization Atlantic Initiative found that only 2.5 percent of Bosnian Muslims supported their compatriots traveling to the Middle East to fight there — five times less than the number of Bosnian Serbs who support Bosnians fighting in Ukraine.
  • the nation hasn’t seen a single major terrorist attack
  • some experts caution that fears of a perceived Islamic threat could be used by Serb and Croat nationalists in Bosnia and politicians in Serbia and Croatia to interfere in Bosnian affairs again. “The 1990s are not a remote past,” says Bećirević. “I remember well how a similar narrative of ’defense against the Islamic threat’ served to justify genocide.”
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince MBS Is Right Where Trump Wants Him - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • There came a moment during Donald Trump’s April 2 phone call to Mohammed bin Salman when Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, apparently stunned by what the American president had just said, asked his aides to leave the room. No courtiers were present when their master, no slouch at intimidation himself, was apparently bullied into submission.
  • Trump had, in effect, threatened the complete withdrawal of American troops from the kingdom if the Saudis didn’t slash oil production.
  • broad, bipartisan support in Washington for punitive actions against Riyadh
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  • the prince is as close to a pariah as a senior member of the royal family has ever been in the 75 years of the Saudi-American alliance
  • the crown prince must now recognize the limitations of his ill-judged strategy to base relations with the U.S., the kingdom’s indispensable ally, exclusively on the cultivation of the first family. Previous Saudi rulers would have been able to rely on friends in Congress to plead with the White House for leniency. But MBS has few friends in Washington — and the army of lobbyists he maintains there is of limited use in a crisis.
  • MBS’s dependence on Trump — and the White House veto — to override this antagonism made him highly vulnerable to presidential strong-arm tactics.
  • The prince is now in a bind. He desperately needs to rebuild bridges with Congress, but that will be harder now that he has injured U.S. oil interests. Nor can he easily submit to pressure from American lawmakers on other issues without losing face at home and in the Arab world. 
  • The timing of his humiliation by Trump is especially unpropitious: The twin blows of the oil war and the coronavirus pandemic have greatly damaged the Saudi economy and undermined his ambitious reform agenda at home. His cherished plan to build a futuristic megacity on the Red Sea coast is facing unexpected opposition. Much effort and cost will be required to extricate Saudi Arabia from the Yemeni quagmire with a semblance of dignity.
Ed Webb

Mohammed bin Salman named Saudi Arabia's crown prince | Saudi Arabia News | Al Jazeera - 1 views

  • Saudi Arabia's King Salman has appointed his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as heir, in a major reshuffle announced early on Wednesday. A royal decree removed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a 57-year-old nephew of the king, as next-in-line to the throne and replaced him with Mohammed bin Salman, 31, who was previously the deputy crown prince. According to the official Saudi Press Agency, the newly announced crown prince was also named deputy prime minister and maintained his post as defence minister. The former crown prince was also fired from his post as interior minister, the decree said.
  • Some royal observers had long suspected Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power under his father's reign might also accelerate his ascension to the throne. The young prince was little known to Saudis and outsiders before Salman became king in January 2015. He had previously been in charge of his father's royal court when Salman was the crown prince.
  • Mohammed bin Nayef was not believed to have played a significant role in Saudi and UAE-led efforts to isolate Qatar for its alleged support of Islamist groups and ties with Iran. The prince had appeared to be slipping from the public eye as his cousin, Mohammed bin Salman, embarked on major overseas visits, including a trip to the White House to meet President Donald Trump in March.
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  • Despite Mohammed bin Salman's ambitions, which include overhauling the kingdom's economy away from its reliance on oil, the prince has faced criticism for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which he oversees as defence minister. The war, launched more than two years ago, has failed to dislodge Iranian-allied rebels known as Houthis from the capital, Sanaa, and has had devastating effects on the impoverished country. Rights groups say Saudi forces have killed scores of civilians and have called on the United States, as well as the UK and France, to halt the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen war.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's Energy Crisis | Arabia, the Gulf, and the GCC Blog - 0 views

  • consuming more and more of its precious petroleum resources, and within a decade may have to begin cutting back on its oil exports to the rest of the world
  • In a recent report entitled, “Burning to Keep Cool: The Hidden Energy Crisis in Saudi Arabia,” Chatham House researchers Glada Lahn and Prof. Paul Stevens said unchecked growth in energy consumption in Saudi Arabia was a “cause for international concern.” If it continues at its present rate, this would threaten the Kingdom’s ability to stabilize world oil markets.
  • Saudi crude export capacity would fall by about 3 million bpd to under 7 million bpd by 2028 unless domestic energy demand growth is checked
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  • Saudi Arabia hopes to buy itself some time with major energy conservation efforts. Saudi Aramco is pursuing an initiative in cooperation with the Kingdom’s utilities and business sector to generate massive energy savings on as rapid a timetable as possible. This initiative includes moves into renewable power sources like solar and wind, plus efforts to slash energy waste and duplication and create a business culture sensitive to energy efficiency
  • Saudi Arabia currently relies on oil revenues for about 80 percent of its government spending
  • Plans to add renewable power would help maintain fiscal balance for another two or three years, but that’s all
  • Chatham House believes “huge economic, social and environmental gains from energy conservation are possible in Saudi Arabia” but it cautions that the longstanding Saudi tradition of low energy prices and the Kingdom’s sluggish bureaucracy pose “challenges” to implementing needed pricing and regulatory reforms.
  • Saudi Arabia is aiming to generate about 10 percent of its power needs from solar energy by the year 2020
anonymous

FreedomHouse Report on Saudi Arabia - 0 views

  • The Basic Law of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not guarantee gender equality.
  • A vigorous progressive movement,
  • Due to an enforced
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  • nd women in public, the opportunities for women's employment remain limited
  • n men a
  • separation betwee
  • e that work in these fields will become more widely available to women in the future. Higher education, in fact, is one area in
  • performed men in terms of PhD degrees earned.
  • which women have significantly out-
  • 8 report was critical of Saudi Arabia's compliance with the convention and called for Saudi Arabia "to enact a gender equality law."
  • consultation, and equality in accordance with Shari'a, or Islamic law. However, Shari'a in Saudi Arabia does not offer equality to women, particularly regarding family law. Instead, women are considered legal minors under the control of their mahram (closest male relative) and are subject to legal restrictions on their personal behavior that do not apply to men.
  • In 2004 a royal decree affirmed the principle of equality between men and women in all matters relating to Saudi nationality,[5] but women remain unable
  • to pass their Saudi citizenship automatically to their noncitizen spouses and children.
  • Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2000, with reservations stating that the kingdom is under no obligation to observe terms of the treaty that contradict Islamic law.
  • Article 8
  • committee's 200
  • In 2007 and 2008, renewed pressure mounted to allow women to drive, and an ad hoc Comm
  • ittee for Women's Right to Drive organized a petition addressed to the king.[19] In January 2008, days after Saudi Arabia faced criticism by the CEDAW committee for restricting "virtually every aspect of a woman's life,"[20] the government announced that a royal decree allowing women to drive would be issued "at the end of the year."[21] In March, the Consultative Council recommended that women be allowed to drive during the daylight hours of weekdays if they get permission from their guardians, undergo drivers' education, wear modest dress, and carry a cell phone. To allay concerns about women's safety, the council added the imposition of a sentence and a fine on any male in another car talking to or sexually harassing a female driver.
  • As of October 2009 these goals had not been implemented, but government approval for the idea of women's driving is a milestone for the kingdom.
  • At the end of 2007, the long–standing bans on women checking into hotels alone and renting apartments for themselves were lifted by royal decree, and a women-only hotel opened in 2008 in Riyadh
  • Government efforts to support women's legal right to work are in reality ambiguous, giving comfort to those who believe that women should stay at ho
  • me as well as to those who demand the right to pursue economic independence.
  • t. Statistics on women's economic activity vary somewhat depending on the source. According to the Ministry of Economy and Planning, women constituted only 5.4 percent of the total Saudi workforce in 2005
  • Two such obstacles
  • mixing the sexes in the workplace and the requirement that a woman's guardian give permission for her to work.
  • women have recently been appointed to elite ministry posts, university deanships, and directorships in quasi-governmental civic organizations
  • The opening of a women's department in the law faculty at King Saud University in Riyadh raises the possibility of appointments to judgeships for women in the future
  • The Internet has played a major role in political activism in Saudi Arabia by helping to bring human rights abuses to international attention.
Ed Webb

EXCLUSIVE: Top Saudi intelligence official 'chased' to Canada by MBS | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • Saad al-Jabri, once a trusted top adviser to the crown prince's rival Mohammed bin Nayef, the former interior minister with deep ties to western intelligence agencies, is described by some observers as the most wanted Saudi outside the kingdom.  Jabri fled the kingdom in 2017 just before bin Nayef was put under house arrest and replaced as crown prince by his 31-year-old cousin. His refuge in Canada raises new questions about an unprecedented diplomatic row between Ottawa and Riyadh in the summer of 2018.
  • “Let’s assume that there might be a coup in Saudi,” said a source familiar with the situation who spoke, as did all those briefed on the events, on condition of anonymity. “He’s the biggest threat. He would have the money and power to do something.”
  • even in Canada, the former official continued to be pursued, receiving intimidating messages from Mohammed bin Salman. There was also concern that there was a rendition attempt on Canadian soil to bring Jabri back to the kingdom
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  • despite extensive relationships with the US intelligence community as bin Nayef’s aide, two sources informed on the matter said he did not feel safe in the US with Donald Trump in power. Instead, he went to Canada where officials secured his refuge in November 2017 and, a month later, several members of his family.
  • Jabri preferred Canada over the US not necessarily because of any specific security concerns, but because it may have been easier to bring his family to join him
  • Revelations of the Canadian government’s assistance to Jabri and his family will raise questions about the diplomatic row that broke out between Ottawa and Riyadh in August 2018. Until now, the spat appeared to the wider public to have started after Canada’s embassy in Riyadh tweeted in Arabic, calling for the release of rights activists, although experts say there were frustrations already brewing in Riyadh.
  • Within 48 hours of the tweets, Saudi Arabia withdrew its envoy, expelled the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom and froze all new business and investment transactions, leaving seasoned observers dumbfounded.
  • Sources informed about Jabri’s refuge in Canada say they believe the harbouring of the former official better explains why the row escalated so quickly.
  • Aside from his blog post, Jabri has been off the public radar since he left the kingdom although several Saudi and Gulf sources told MEE that they had heard that he was in Canada. “He’s kept out of the public eye,” said a Saudi dissident, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “A few people spotted him by chance, but not because he approached opposition people.”
  • Trump has come under fire for downplaying the role of Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in November 2018 even though the CIA concluded that the crown prince ordered the operation.
  • Saudi dissidents, both in the US and in other countries, have told MEE that Trump’s response to the killing, paired with the administration’s close ties to the kingdom, has left them anxious about their security in the US.
  • earlier this year, Abdulrahman al-Mutairi, a young Saudi living in California who has spoken out against the crown prince, told the Daily Beast and the LA Times that the FBI had thwarted an attempt by the Saudi government to kidnap him on US soil.
  • "That Saudis wouldn't feel safe abroad, 100 percent I agree. Where I would be very sceptical is that it's because of the Trump administration. I think it's because of MBS that Saudis shouldn’t feel safe abroad."  
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