Middle East & Arab World – Saudi Arabia 2015-17

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Burning Oil to Keep Cool
The Hidden Energy Crisis in Saudi Arabia
Glada Lahn and Paul Stevens
(Chatham House December 2011)

Wondering what bling the Trumps received.
The King of Saudi Arabia Gave More Than $1.3M in Gifts to the Obamas Last Year
Per U.S. government protocol, they must accept the gifts in cases where “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to [the] donor and U.S. government.”
The items must be later turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration, or the recipient can pay the market value of the gift and keep it.

20-21 May
Donald of Arabia
He didn’t do anything embarrassing. But he did commit the United States to a deeper alliance with the very leaders who are part of the problem.
By Blake Hounshell. editor in chief of POLITICO Magazine
Saudi Arabia, UAE pledge $100 million to ethically questionable fund proposed by Ivanka Trump
(Think Progress) Donald Trump criticized similar donations to the Clinton Foundation when he was a candidate.
Ivanka Trump meets with Saudi women leaders as some activists remain critical
(WaPost) Ivanka Trump brought her message of female empowerment Sunday to the world’s most repressive society for women, a place where women are not allowed to drive, must cover themselves from head to toe in public and require permission from a “male guardian” to travel outside their homes.
“In every country, including the United States, women and girls face challenges,” Trump told a small group of accomplished Saudi women gathered for a dialogue with her about how to build on their successes. “Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging,” she said, “but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Saudi Arabia Welcomes Trump With Billions of Dollars of Deals
(Bloomberg) The Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, agreed to commit $20 billion to an infrastructure investment fund with Blackstone Group LP. The fund will eventually double in size with money raised “from other investors.” Saudi Aramco said it signed 16 accords with 11 companies valued at about $50 billion. One initial deal — worth $15 billion — was signed with General Electric Co. The U.S. and Saudi Defense Ministry also negotiated a package of about $110 billion, according to a White House transcript on Friday.
Officials gave varying figures for the total value of deals signed. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the agreements were valued at more than $380 billion, $30 billion more than what was announced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the same news conference. Earlier in the day, Saudi Cabinet Minister Mohammed Alsheikh put the total at about $300 billion.
Saudis Welcome Trump’s Rebuff of Obama’s Mideast Views
(NYT) With trumpets blaring, cannons booming and fighter jets streaking overhead trailed by red, white and blue contrails, President Trump arrived in the scorching heat of the Arabian desert on Saturday hoping to realign the politics and diplomacy of the Middle East by forcefully reasserting American support for Sunni Muslim countries and Israel against Iran’s Shiite-led government.
The Saudis treated him like royalty, with red carpets, lavish meals and American flags flying everywhere. They repeatedly used the word “historic” to describe his visit, gave him a medal, projected a multistory image of his face on the side of the palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel where he was staying, and treated him to a colorful dance display in which his staff joined in with scores of white-robed Saudis and even the president swayed back and forth.
‘A new page’ as US President Donald Trump lands in Saudi Arabia
(Arab News)Trump is to deliver a speech on Sunday aimed at rallying Muslims in the fight against terrorism. His first official foreign trip since taking office will coincide with three key summits on Saturday and Sunday, as well as several business activities, cultural, intellectual and sports celebrations.

18 May
Robert Fisk: This is the aim of Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and it isn’t good for Shia communities
The Sunni Saudis and the Gulf kings possess immense wealth, the only religion that Trump really respects, and they want to destroy Shia Iran, Syria, the Hezbollah and the Houthis – which is a simple ‘anti-terrorist’ story for the Americans
Donald Trump sets off on Friday to create the fantasy of an Arab Nato. There will be dictators aplenty to greet him in Riyadh, corrupt autocrats and thugs and torturers and head choppers. There will be at least one zombie president – the comatose, undead Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria who neither speaks nor, apparently, hears any more – and, of course, one totally insane president, Donald Trump. The aim, however, is simple: to prepare the Sunni Muslims of the Middle East for war against the Shia Muslims. With help from Israel, of course.
Even for those used to the insanity of Arab leadership – not to mention those Westerners who have still to grasp that the US President is himself completely off his rocker – the Arab-Muslim (Sunni) summit in Saudi Arabia is almost beyond comprehension.

17 May
(Quartz) Saudi Arabia opens up. … What’s driving one of the world’s most conservative countries to change? An economic crisis, waning regional influence, and a reform-minded prince, writes Susanne Koelbl from Riyadh for Der Spiegel.
Saudi Arabia Experiments with Reform Amid Economic Downturn
(Spiegel) As oil riches have declined in Saudi Arabia, the crisis has forced change in the country. Women are joining the workforce and music is even being permitted on the streets. Can the world’s most conservative nation reinvent itself?

2016

14 October
Saudi Arabia, Where Even Milk Depends on Oil, Struggles to Remake Its Economy
(NYT) Low oil prices and an increasingly costly war in Yemen have torn a yawning hole in the Saudi budget and created a crisis that has led to cuts in public spending, reductions in take-home pay and benefits for government workers and a host of new fees and fines. Huge subsidies for fuel, water and electricity that encourage overconsumption are being curtailed.
The vast subterranean seas of petroleum here have seeped into almost every part of the Saudi economy. Crude oil does more than deliver billions of dollars in profits to Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, and Sabic, the chemical giant; it also buttresses energy-intensive sectors like cement production and aluminum smelting.
Saudi Arabia burns barrel after barrel of crude oil for electricity, one of the few countries to do so in large quantities. Commercial air-conditioners cool shopping malls as temperatures outside soar past 100 degrees in the summer, and children go sledding at Snow City, a frigid new recreation center in the capital. Much of the drinking water needed to keep this desert nation alive comes from energy-draining desalination. And the S.U.V.s idling in Riyadh’s enormous traffic snarls drain gasoline.
We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along – US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis
There is a bizarre discontinuity between what the Obama administration knew about the jihadis and what they would say in public
(The Independent UK) A Hillary Clinton presidency might mean closer amity with Saudi Arabia, but American attitudes towards the Saudi regime are becoming soured, as was shown recently when Congress overwhelmingly overturned a presidential veto of a bill allowing the relatives of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government.
Another development is weakening Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies. The leaked memo speaks of the rival ambitions of Saudi Arabia and Qatar “to dominate the Sunni world”. But this has not turned out well, with east Aleppo and Mosul, two great Sunni cities, coming under attack and likely to fall. Whatever Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the others thought they were doing, it has not happened and the Sunni of Syria and Iraq are paying a heavy price. It is this failure which will shape the future relations of the Sunni states with the new US administration.
9 October
yemen-map-insurgencyBackgrounder: What is happening in Yemen and how are Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes affecting civilians – explainer
(The Guardian) In March 2015 a Saudi-led coalition began bombing Houthi rebels who had forced Yemen’s president into exile. Analysis of a comprehensive, open source data survey of the campaign shows airstrikes have regularly hit civilian, economic and cultural sites. The air campaign has recently intensified after the collapse of a patchy ceasefire (September 2016)
9 October
Airstrikes on Saturday hit a funeral hall packed with thousands of mourners in Yemen’s rebel-held capital, Sana’a. More than 525 people were wounded.
Houthi rebels say Saudi-led coalition to blame for attack on ceremony
Saudi Arabia has faced repeated accusations that its campaign has breached international humanitarian law, and last month the Guardian published data indicating that more than a third of the coalition’s airstrikes had hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets, mosques and economic infrastructure.
The Houthi rebels are also accused of human rights violations, including the use of landmines and indiscriminate shelling.
The UN has put the death toll in the 18-month war at more than 10,000, many of them civilians. Dozens of emaciated children are also fighting for their lives in Yemen’s hospital wards, as fears grow that the war and a sea blockade are creating famine conditions in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country. More
US says support for Saudi Arabia not a ‘blank cheque’ after Yemen air raid
Coalition announces inquiry into strike that killed 140 people in Sana’a as US says its backing is not ‘a blank cheque’
In one of the deadliest attacks of the country’s civil war, which Saudi Arabia entered in March 2015,
The Saudi-led coalition has not acknowledged responsibility for the attack, even as it announced an investigation, but is the only force with such air power in the conflict.
The White House issued a statement saying it had begun an “immediate review” of its support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The attack has been condemned by the UN, the European Union and the United States.
3 October
Gwynne Dyer: Saudi Arabia admits defeat
Saudi Arabia is cutting back on all fronts.
About two-thirds of employed Saudi citizens have public sector jobs, many of which require them to do little beyond showing up on a fairly regular basis. It’s the unwritten contract that the absolute monarchy made with its citizens decades ago, when money was not a problem: you keep quiet politically, and we will subsidise your lifestyle handsomely. But the money isn’t there any more.
So if the regime can’t get its budget spending down much, then it had better start getting the oil price back up before it runs out of money entirely and the roof falls in. This requires an about-turn in the market strategy it has followed for the past two years.
At the OPEC summit in Algiers last Wednesday, Saudi Arabia publicly abandoned its strategy. OPEC will cut production by 700,000 barrels a day, starting next month. Saudi Arabia, as usual, will take the biggest share in the cuts – and if this round of cuts doesn’t get the price back up, there will presumably be a further round early in the new year.
The Saudis have even agreed that Iran, their great strategic rival in the Gulf region, can increase its production while everybody else in OPEC is cutting. …
So, then, three conclusions. One, Saudi Arabia’s ability to set the price of oil, and OPEC’s power in general, is seriously impaired. Two, the oil price is going back up over the next year or so, though probably not beyond $70 or $80 a barrel. And three, that is really a good thing, because we need a higher oil price to drive the shift out of carbon fuels and into renewables.
22 September
Robert Fisk: For the first time, Saudi Arabia is being attacked by both Sunni and Shia leaders
What, the Saudis must be asking themselves, has happened to the fawning leaders who would normally grovel to the Kingdom?
The Saudis step deeper into trouble almost by the week. Swamped in their ridiculous war in Yemen, they are now reeling from an extraordinary statement issued by around two hundred Sunni Muslim clerics who effectively referred to the Wahhabi belief – practiced in Saudi Arabia – as “a dangerous deformation” of Sunni Islam. The prelates included Egypt’s Grand Imam, Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, the most important centre of theological study in the Islamic world, who only a year ago attacked “corrupt interpretations” of religious texts and who has now signed up to “a return to the schools of great knowledge” outside Saudi Arabia.
This remarkable meeting took place in Grozny and was unaccountably ignored by almost every media in the world – except for the former senior associate at St Antony’s College, Sharmine Narwani, and Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe – but it may prove to be even more dramatic than the terror of Syria’s civil war. For the statement, obviously approved by Vladimir Putin, is as close as Sunni clerics have got to excommunicating the Saudis.
Wahhabism’s most dangerous deviation, in the eyes of the Sunnis who met in Chechenya, is that it sanctions violence against non-believers, including Muslims who reject Wahhabi interpretation. Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the principal foreign adherents to this creed outside Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The conference itself was opened by Putin, which shows what he thinks of the Saudis – although, typically, none of the Sunni delegates asked him to stop bombing Syria. But since the very meeting occurred against the backcloth of Isis and its possible defeat, they wouldn’t, would they?
That Chechenya, a country of monstrous bloodletting by Russia and its own Wahhabi rebels, should have been chosen as a venue for such a remarkable conclave was an irony which could not have been lost on the delegates.
14 September
‘We Misled You’: How the Saudis Are Coming Clean on Funding Terrorism
On his latest trip, a former senior U.S. official finds a new attitude in Riyadh. But will it stick?
By Zalmay Khalilzad
(Politico Magazine) In the past, when we raised the issue of funding Islamic extremists with the Saudis, all we got were denials. This time, in the course of meetings with King Salman, Crown Prince Nayef, Deputy Crown Mohammad Bin Salman and several ministers, 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.
Under their new and unprecedented policy of honesty, the Saudi leadership also explained to me that 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. In this application too, they argued, it proved successful. Later it was deployed against Iranian-supported Shiite movements in the geopolitical competition between the two countries
The new Saudi leadership appears to be downgrading ideology in favor of modernization.
There have been many reform programs announced before in Saudi Arabia, only to fade into insignificance. Also, modernization undermines two pillars of Saudi political legitimacy, the endorsement of the Wahhabi clerical establishment and the traditionalism that undergirds any monarchical government. As modernization creates economic uncertainty for those benefiting from the present inefficient order, the result could be political turmoil. And 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.
5 July
House of Saud in the crosshairs
The Islamic State called for its followers to carry out ‘a month of calamity’ to coincide with the Muslim holy month. A string of attacks followed around the globe, Patrick Martin writes, from a lone-wolf gunman in Orlando to a suicide bomber at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina
(Globe & Mail) While widespread attacks by Islamic State followers have been carried out in the past, what is new and significant now are the co-ordinated July 4 attacks in Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic State has targeted Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province before, but the attempted assault on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah and especially the attack on the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina raise the stakes of this seemingly religious war enormously.
26 April
Saudi Arabia Vision 2030Saudi Arabia unveils plans to kick oil profit dependence
(National Observer) “Diversifying our economy is vital for its sustainability. Although oil and gas are essential pillars of our economy, we have begun expanding our investments into additional sectors,” the Saudi government announced in a new document outlining plans to make the kingdom’s economy less dependent on oil over the next 15 years.
Titled “Saudi Arabia 2030” (see the full text here), the document, released Monday, explains how Saudi Arabia would use its significant “investment power” to “create a more diverse and sustainable economy” in the near future. While the plan doesn’t make any mention of climate change, and stresses that it will continue to localize the oil and gas sector, it also aims to boost Saudi Arabia’s share of non-oil exports in non-oil GDP from 16 per cent to 50 per cent in the near future.
Saudi Arabia agrees on plan to cut reliance on oil
(Al Jazeera) Vision 2030 envisages forming public investment fund, boosting affordable housing and giving expats long-term residence.
21 April
Past is prologue? Saudi Arabia’s clumsy oil diplomacy
(Brookings) The current Iranian-Saudi conflagration is already more dangerous than the original, as the fallout from the conflict has been felt across the region in the devastating wars in Syria and Yemen. And in contrast to the 1980s, when it was the nascent Islamic Republic whose ideological imperatives frustrated efforts at de-escalation, this time around the wild card lies in Riyadh, not in Tehran
Even by the standards of their well-established enmity, the past week has been an especially sour one between Tehran and Riyadh. The Istanbul summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) ended in recriminations and resentment after the Saudis engineered a final statement that criticized Tehran. A Doha meeting of major oil producers failed to produce agreement on a Saudi proposed output freeze because of Tehran’s refusal to cooperate. And quiet talks over the annual pilgrimage to Mecca—a traditional source of strife between the two theocratic states that was further complicated by their January rupture in diplomatic relations—have just collapsed.
Eventually, the 1985-86 oil war subsided, as both Tehran and Riyadh came to appreciate that their interests were better served by mutual compromise. The Saudis sought an exit strategy to stem the price erosion as well as the ongoing damage to their relations with smaller producers, including the United States. Facing an inflection point in its war with Iraq, Tehran also yielded, even conceding a temporary boost for Baghdad’s production. Hubris on both sides was eventually run aground by economic realities. Mohammed bin Salman may soon learn a similar lesson.
20 April
Nicholas Kristof: Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry
I’m glad that President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia, for engagement usually works better than isolation. But let’s not let diplomatic niceties keep us from pointing to the insidious role that Saudi Arabia plays in sowing instability, and, for that matter, in tarnishing the image of Islam worldwide. The truth is that Saudi leaders do far more to damage Islam than Trump or Cruz can do, and we should be as ready to denounce their bigotry as Trump’s. …
Saudi Arabia has promoted extremism, hatred, misogyny and the Sunni/Shiite divide that is now playing out in a Middle East civil war. Saudi Arabia should be renamed the Kingdom of Backwardness.
It’s not just that Saudi women are barred from driving, or that when in cars they are discouraged from wearing seatbelts for fear of showing their contours, or that a 19-year-old woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes (after protests, the king pardoned her). It’s not just that public churches are banned, or that there is brutal repression of the Shiite minority.
As the land where Islam began, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence among Muslims worldwide. Its approach to Islam has special legitimacy, its clerics have great reach, its media spread its views worldwide and it finances madrasas in poor countries to sow hatred.
From Pakistan to Mali, these Saudi-financed madrasas have popped up and cultivate religious extremism — and, sometimes, terrorists. A State Department cable released through WikiLeaks reported that in Pakistan these extremist madrasas offered impoverished families a $6,500 bounty for turning over a son to be indoctrinated.
Saudi Arabia’s Rights Abuses Have Only Gotten Worse Since Obama’s Last Visit
Rights groups say the president needs to speak out against the country’s dire record.
President Barack Obama is meeting with Saudi Arabia’s king and other Gulf Cooperation Council leaders key issues including counterterrorism. But his arrival in the capital Riyadh on Wednesday has also shone a spotlight on the U.S. ally’s appalling human rights record.
Obama’s last trip followed the death of King Abdullah and the ascension of King Salman to the throne. Many observers predicted that Salman’s rule would largely be a continuation of Abdullah’s policies, but Saudi Arabia has instead intensified its crackdown on dissent and expanded its involvement in regional conflict and crises.
In the past year, executions in Saudi Arabia surged to the highest level in decades, and rights groups have widely condemned Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen for violating international law. The government has also continued to prosecute and arrest activists, often through broad anti-terrorism laws designed to stifle dissent.
19 April
The Long Divorce
How the U.S.-Saudi relationship grew cold under Barack Obama’s watch
(Foreign Policy) Obama’s 2002 speech in Chicago, just over a year after the terror attacks of 9/11, is most famous for Obama’s opposition to President George W. Bush’s planned invasion of Iraq, which he referred to as a “dumb war.” But the then-state senator also had a pointed message about the two countries that formed the pillars of U.S. influence in the Middle East.
“You want a fight, President Bush?” Obama asked. “Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East – the Saudis and the Egyptians – stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality.”They would have known of Obama’s 2002 speech in Chicago, just over a year after the terror attacks of 9/11. That speech is most famous for Obama’s opposition to President George W. Bush’s planned invasion of Iraq, which he referred to as a “dumb war.” But the then-state senator also had a pointed message about the two countries that formed the pillars of U.S. influence in the Middle East. …
Obama will meet King Salman in Riyadh on April 20, during what will likely be his final trip to Saudi Arabia during his presidency. Such meetings between national leaders are usually used for discussions about common interests rather than detailed agendas. The common question is: Are the allies on the same metaphorical page? But with the United States and Saudi Arabia today, it will be more interesting to see whether they can plausibly suggest they are still reading from the same book.
Although the upcoming visit is being touted as an effort in alliance-building, it will just as likely highlight how far Washington and Riyadh have drifted apart in the past eight years. For Obama, the key issue in the Middle East is the fight against the Islamic State: He wants to be able to continue to operate with the cover of a broad Islamic coalition, of which Saudi Arabia is a prominent member. For the House of Saud, the issue is Iran. For them, last year’s nuclear deal does not block Iran’s nascent nuclear status – instead, it confirms it. Worse than that, Washington sees Iran as a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State.
17 April
Oil producers fail to agree deal to freeze output after Saudi Arabia-Iran standoff
Opec and non-Opec members say they need more time after Riyadh demands arch-rival Tehran join agreement
(The Guardian) What producers had hoped would be the first deal in 15 years ran into difficulty after Saudi Arabia – the largest exporter of oil – demanded that Iran join an agreement to freeze output.
Iran has been reluctant to agree to hold back on oil production while it attempts to return its market share to pre-sanction levels.
The meeting in Doha had been called on Sunday for 18 countries to sign off on a deal that would helped to put a floor on the price of crude oil which, at $45 a barrel, has risen 60% from its lows in January.
But Reuters quoted sources saying that Saudi Arabia wanted all Opec members to attend talks, despite insisting earlier on excluding Iran, its political rival in the region, because Tehran had refused to freeze production.

21 January
And now this!
Chess forbidden in Islam, rules Saudi mufti, but issue not black and white
Game likely to take on status of minor vices such as music after Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh says it encourages gambling

Gulf cooperation council FMsForeign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups Sunni Arab monarchies, at an extraordinary GCC meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Jan. 9. They expressed their total support for Saudi Arabia in its diplomatic row with predominantly Shiite Iran. (Ahmed Farwan/AFP/Getty Images)
9 January
After Years of Proxy War, Saudi Arabia and Iran Are Finally Squaring Up in the Open
(Epoch Times) Relations between Riyadh and Tehran have been tense ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in the revolution of 1979, adding religious competition to a burgeoning geopolitical rivalry.
Since the revolution, the Gulf’s Sunni governments have long been concerned that Iran would seek to manipulate Shia populations across the Middle East, whom are often viewed as “fifth columns.” This suspicion was perhaps best articulated by King Abdullah of Jordan, who in 2004 referred to a “Shia Crescent,” an Iranian sphere of influence stretching from Iran to Lebanon.
This was furthered by Iranian complicity in a number of subversive acts, including an attempted coup d’etat in Bahrain in 1981, an attempted assassination of the Emir of Kuwait in 1985, and the establishment of a Hezbollah franchise in Hejaz, in western Saudi Arabia, two years later.
As a consequence of this fear, in recent years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have become embroiled in a number of proxy conflicts, as collapses in political order elsewhere opened up new chances to compete for influence.
Saudi Arabia’s Last-Ditch Effort to Stop America’s Pivot to Iran
Did Riyadh execute Nimr to show the West that Tehran is still a loose cannon?
(Foreign Policy) Saudi Arabia’s escalating diplomatic war with Iran is part of a new attempt to derail what Riyadh sees as a clear American shift towards Tehran. Unfortunately for the kingdom, it probably won’t work.
The United States sharply criticized Riyadh over the execution last week of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, voicing concern it could fuel sectarian tensions in the region. But when a mob torched the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in outrage over the cleric’s death, Washington and other Western governments offered a more muted response, calling on the Iranian authorities to ensure the security of diplomatic missions.
Saudi-Iran rift is a matter of embarrassment to Muslim world
(Asia Times) The rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran appears to be touching a new threshold following the execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric by Riyadh and the furious mob reaction in Tehran by burning down the Saudi mission, which in turn led to the move by Riyadh to break off diplomatic relations with Iran. But in reality, this is only the latest chapter of a chronicle of tensions waxing and waning, which the Muslim world has got used to over the decades.
Simply put, the western media projection of the latest Saudi-Iranian rift as potentially tearing the Muslim world apart is a bit of an exaggeration. The four countries with the biggest Muslim populations in the world – Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – are carrying on with the mundane issues of day-to-day life. …
The heart of the matter is that the sectarian identities in the Muslim world may be a fact of life – somewhat like the caste system in the Hindu society – which everyone knows about and is resigned to accept, but the topic nonetheless is also an embarrassment when it sails into view. Ironically, neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia will want to be known as Shia or Sunni countries – they would much rather prefer to be known as part of the Muslim Ummah.
The cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that’s tearing apart the Middle East, explained
The supposedly ancient Sunni-Shia divide is in fact very modern — and it’s not really about religion.
(Vox) In some ways, this sort of diplomatic confrontation was perhaps inevitable: Saudi Arabia and Iran see one another as enemies, and are locked in an escalating competition for influence and dominance of the Middle East. That rivalry goes far beyond just words, with both countries backing militant groups and proxy forces throughout the region, particularly in Syria. Their competition is a major driver of conflict in the Middle East, including the growing violence along Sunni-Shia lines.
There had been hints that Saudi Arabia and Iran, perhaps exhausted by their conflict, might be willing to deescalate in 2016, maybe even finding peace deals for the wars in Syria and Yemen. But this week’s events have ended those hopes, and suggest things may rather get worse. That’s not just bad for Saudi Arabia and Iran — it is bad for the entire Middle East, as both regional conflicts such as Syria and generalized Sunni-Shia tension are likely to increase.

There is indeed a religious division between Sunni and Shia Islam, going back to the first generations of the religion’s founding in the seventh century. You can read about those ancient religious differences and how they opened here, but the truth is that this is not terribly relevant to today’s violence.
Sunni and Shia have gotten along fine for much of the Middle East’s history, and the Sunni-Shia divide was just not so important for the region’s politics. In the 1980s, for example, the biggest conflict in the Middle East was between two Shia-majority countries — Iran and Iraq — with Sunni powers backing Iraq.
That changed in 2003, when the United States led the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Saddam was hostile to both Iran and to Saudi Arabia (despite Saudi support for his 1980s war against Iran), and those two countries saw him as a wild-eyed threat. He held the Middle East in a precarious sort of balance.
When the US toppled Saddam, it removed that balance, and opened a vacuum in Iraq that both Saudi Arabia and Iran attempted to fill so as to counter one another. Because Iraq was mostly Shia (Saddam had been Sunni), Iran tried to exploit sectarianism to its advantage, backing hard-line Shia groups that would promote Iranian interests and oppose Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia. It also put pressure on the new Iraqi government to serve Iranian interests, which came to be equated with Shia interests.
In this way, political maneuvering in post-Saddam Iraq that was not primarily about religion came to be expressed as about religion. It helped deepen the Sunni-Shia divide there so severely that this divide today defines Iraq.
In weak states, Iran and Saudi Arabia have tried to position themselves as the patrons of their respective religious clans so as to assert influence, and they have ginned up sectarianism to promote fear of the other side. Sectarianism is just a tool. But that sectarianism has become a reality as Middle Eastern militias and political parties line up along sectarian lines and commit violence along those lines.
Opinion: Tehran and Riyadh are two murderous theocracies
(Deutsche Welle) Following the execution of Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr tension between Saudi-Arabia and Iran has been mounting. DW’s Kersten Knipp believes that both countries’ leaders are deeply cynical and welcome these developments.
One thing is for sure: The timing of the executions was no coincidence. The Saudi State knows full well what it does – and when. No one in Riyadh is naïve enough not to have considered the reactions to the mass executions ahead of time. But that also means: In ordering the executions the Saudis were sending, above all, a political message.
The message read: No one should dare oppose us. No one inside and no one outside our borders. Whoever dares confront us must expect dire consequences.
A political signal
The message was first and foremost intended for the domestic opposition. It was a clear warning that could not have been harsher. Currently, the Saudi judicial system is cracking down on all opponents of the regime: On liberals like the blogger Raif Badawi, advocates of cultural modernization like the poet Ashraf Fayad and now the cleric Nimr al-Nimr, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Al Nimr’s nephew has also been sentenced to death for protesting against the Saudi regime – although he was only 16 years old at the time of the “offense.”
These prominent cases illustrate in an exemplary fashion what the Saudi royals see as a direct threat to their power. And obviously, they have decided to react to these threats in the same way as their enemy, Syria’s Bahar al-Assad, whom the Saudis like to claim to be fighting in the name of protecting human rights.
As far as foreign policy is concerned: The executions were intended to send a message of strength and determination. Since the partial withdrawal of the United States from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, represented by its foreign minister, is seeking to establish itself as the main power in the region. For months, the Saudi military has spearheaded an Arab alliance attack on Yemen. This has long turned into a proxy war with mainly Shiite Iran. Little does anyone care about the 3,000 civilians who have lost their lives in this conflict, or the two and a half million internally displaced people it has caused.
Not long ago Saudi Arabia announced the creation of an “Anti-terror-alliance” against Syria. It seems that the Saudis carried out the executions in order to trigger unrest in Iran and Iraq and among the Shiite Hezbollah fighters as all this is likely to encourage their Sunni allies to rally closer together. So the Saudis have redefined the confrontation as a religious one – and thereby fuelled it.
Reactions to a Shia cleric’s death, from the furious to the thoughtful
(The Economist) Vali Nasr, an American international-affairs professor, former diplomat and authority on Shia Islam, suggested that in carrying out the sentence, the Saudi authorities were knowingly sending a harsh sectarian signal to all comers. “Sectarian narrative helps Saudi rulers at tough times: rally Sunnis at home and in region against Shia challenge”, he tweeted.
Among activists from the Gulf region, some of the more thoughtful responses insisted that the sheikh saw himself as a campaigner for human rights, not as a lobbyist for any sectarian cause; it was therefore wrong to respond in sectarian terms. It was pointed out that the sheikh himself had never confined his criticism to his own Sunni overlords; he also had critical words for the non-Sunni rulers of Syria, who are aligned with the Shia camp.
Meanwhile, The Nation That Executed 47 People In 1 Day Sits On The U.N. Human Rights Council
2 January
Saudi Arabia stews in policy hell: Spengler
(Asia Times) Last week’s mass executions in Saudi Arabia suggest panic at the highest level of the monarchy.
Saudi Arabia finds itself isolated, abandoned by its longstanding American ally, at odds with China, and pressured by Russia’s sudden preeminence in the region. The Saudi-backed Army of Conquest in Syria seems to be crumbling under Russian attack. The Saudi intervention in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has gone poorly. And its Turkish ally-of-convenience is consumed by a low-level civil war.
Nothing has gone right for Riyadh.
Worst of all, the collapse of Saudi oil revenues threatens to exhaust the kingdom’s $700 billion in financial reserves within five years, according to an October estimate by the International Monetary Fund (as I discussed here). The House of Saud relies on subsidies to buy the loyalty of the vast majority of its subjects, and its reduced spending power is the biggest threat to its rule. Last week Riyadh cut subsidies for water, electricity and gasoline. The timing of the executions may be more than coincidence: the royal family’s capacity to buy popular support is eroding just as its regional security policy has fallen apart.
For decades, Riyadh has presented itself as an ally of the West and a force for stability in the region, while providing financial support for Wahhabi fundamentalism around the world. China has been the kingdom’s largest customer as well as a provider of sophisticated weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles. But China also has lost patience with the monarchy’s support for Wahhabi Islamists in China and bordering countries.
Saudi Arabia executes 47 on terrorism charges
(Al Jazeera) Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry says it has executed 47 “terrorists”, including Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr and a convicted al-Qaeda leader Faris al-Zahrani.
He was convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.
Many of the other men executed had been linked to attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2006, blamed on al-Qaeda. Zahrani, described by Saudi media as al-Qaeda’s top religious leader in the kingdom, was one of them.
Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent cleric sparks outrage across Shia world
Leaders of Iran and Iraq among those to condemn killing of Nimr al-Nimr, one of group of 47 people put to death by Saudi regime in one day
The execution of a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family has caused international outrage and a serious escalation of diplomatic tensions in the region, with unrest predicted in Shia-majority areas.
British politicians and the leaders of Iraq and Iran were among those who condemned the killing of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric opposed to the Riyadh regime who was among 47 people executed on Saturday by the Saudi Arabian Sunni authorities.
No information was released about the execution method used, but the country’s normal policy is to behead condemned prisoners with a sword.
Nimr, 56, promoted peaceful protest among his followers. He had been held since 2012, prompting a high-profile campaign for his release backed by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and Amnesty International.
Yemen called the execution a flagrant violation of human rights and there was further criticism from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Lebanon’s Supreme Islamic Shia Council condemned Riyadh’s action as a grave mistake.

2015

20 November
Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It
Kamel Daoud
Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.
(NYT) Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.
The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.
11 October
Robert Fisk: The West rightly condemns Isis vandalism of ancient sites – but not when the Saudis do it
Saudi Arabia’s grotesque destruction of Muslim history is directly linked to Isis’s own purgation of the past
(The Indepedent) Take a glance at what has come to pass in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library has been built over the dwelling where the Prophet Mohamed was born in Mecca in AD570 – even this may now be replaced by skyscrapers – and the fine Bilal mosque, dating from this same period, has been bulldozed. Mohamed’s first wife, Khadijah, lived in a Mecca house which has been turned into toilets. The Mecca Hilton Hotel was erected over the house of Abu Bakr, Mohamed’s father-in-law, his closest companion and future Caliph. Hundreds of old Ottoman houses have been destroyed in Saudi Arabia and Ottoman architecture around the Great Mosque is being torn down for pilgrimage “expansion” projects. Five of the famous “Seven Mosques”, built by Mohamed’s daughter and four companions, were demolished 90 years ago. And, after the Lebanese (Christian) Professor Kamal Salibi published a book in 1985 suggesting that many Saudi villages bore biblical Jewish place names, the bulldozers arrived to erase them.
This grotesque destruction of Muslim history is directly linked to Isis’s own purgation of the past by the Wahhabi faith, which the Saudis adopted from the teachings of the 18th-century Mohamed ibn Abdul Wahhab – who preached that Islam should return to the purity of its earliest principles. From these ideas came the notion that almost any historical monument represents an excuse for idolatry, a precept adopted with ferocious enthusiasm by the Saudi tribes. When Abdul Aziz ibn Saud moved into Mecca in the 1920s, his first actions included the destruction of the graveyard in which Khadijah was buried, along with the tomb of one of the Prophet’s uncles. The same fate awaited the tombs of Mohamed’s daughter Fatima and his grandson Hasan ibn Ali.
29 September
The prince of counterterrorism: The story of Washington’s favorite Saudi, Muhammad bin Nayef
(Brookings) King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, 79, who ascended to the throne in January, following the death of King Abdullah, will be the last of the generation of leaders who built the modern kingdom, transforming it from a poor desert backwater into a prosperous, ultra-conservative regional power with enormous oil wealth.
What the future has in store for the kingdom is of great concern to Washington. Within months of becoming king, Salman plunged into what appears to be a quagmire war in Yemen, snubbed President Obama, and endorsed hardline clerics who are opposed to reforms that Obama argues are necessary if Saudi Arabia is to remain a stable partner for the United States. Not a promising start from the American point of view. However, one of the king’s first moves was greeted very enthusiastically: he changed the order of succession, pushing aside his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz as next in line to the throne and making one of his nephews, Muhammad bin Nayef, 56, the new crown prince and heir.
MBN, as he is known, will be the first of his generation to rule the kingdom—unless, of course, the king reshuffles the deck again. U.S. officials are keeping their fingers crossed, since MBN is the darling of America’s counterterrorism and intelligence services, having performed several critical services for the U.S. in his capacity as deputy minister of the interior and then minister of the interior—the office that oversees all domestic security matters. Unlike his father, who preceded him in those positions, he is pro-American, almost certainly more so than any other member of the Saudi leadership.
Daniel Benjamin explains the U.S. support of and alliance with Saudi Arabia in: The King and ISIS and concludes: “Will our partners of seven decades, as U.S. officials like to refer to the Saudis, join in the fight against extremism and not just its terrorist end-product? Don’t count on it: Saudi Arabia has avoided taking such steps for decades, and there is no reason to think the kingdom can’t stay on its current course for decades more.”
While many voices have been raised over the Saudi membership on the UN Human Rights Council, much of the fury is misplaced as laid out by the Daily Beast which argues that:
“By all means the international community needs to take a long and hard look at how it elects members to the UNHRC. By all means that process needs serious reform. Indeed, countries with a poor human rights record should not be part of such a council. And, indeed, there should be clear criteria to determine whose record is worse than others’, and countries that are politically strong should not get a free pass, and countries that are convenient to dislike are not excluded. Those are far bigger issues, and far more significant concerns, than arguing whether Saudi Arabia should be the temporary chair of an advisory panel, whose recommendations would simply be that—recommendations.”
– still, the optics are awful! And the Guardian article that revealed this week that leaked documents suggest a vote-trading deal was conducted between the UK & Saudi Arabia to enable both nations to secure a seat at the UNHRC certainly doesn’t help.
26 September
Haj death toll rises to 769, Iran denounces ‘crime
(Reuters via EIN ) – The death toll in a crush at the annual haj pilgrimage outside Mecca rose to 769, Saudi Arabia said on Saturday, as arch-rival Iran said Saudi officials should be tried in an international court for what it called a crime.
Saudi Arabia’s Healthy Ministry reported on Saturday that the crush and stampede killed at least 769 pilgrims and injured 934. Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Iran all have said the toll may be higher.
13 September
Well, that makes everything fine and would appear to support the argument put forward in the Speisa piece immediately below it .
Saudi Arabia offers Germany 200 mosques – one for every 100 refugees who arrived last weekend
(The Independent) Saudi Arabia has reportedly responded to the growing number of people fleeing the Middle East for western Europe – by offering to build 200 mosques in Germany.
Syria’s richer Gulf neighbours have been accused of not doing their fair share in the humanitarian crisis, with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE also keeping their doors firmly shut to asylum-seekers.
It would be unfair to suggest that the Gulf Arab states have done nothing to help the estimated four million Syrians who have fled their country since the start of the conflict in 2011.
Just this week, the al Hayat newspaper reported that 500,000 Syrians had found homes in Saudi Arabia since the civil war began – as workers, not refugees.
There have also been significant contributions from rich individuals towards the upkeep of refugee camps round the Syrian border, estimated by the BBC to total around $900 million (£600 million).
tent camp near MeccaSaudi Arabia Takes Zero Refugees Despite Having 100,000 Tents Able To House 3 Million People
By Paul Joseph Watson
(Dhaka Tribune) While European countries are being lectured about their failure to take in enough refugees, Saudi Arabia – which has taken in precisely zero migrants – has 100,000 air conditioned tents that can house over 3 million people sitting empty. … as the Washington Post reports, wealthy Gulf Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and others have taken in precisely zero Syrian refugees. Although Saudi Arabia claims it has taken in 500,000 Syrians since 2011, rights groups point out that these people are not allowed to register as migrants. Many of them are also legal immigrants who moved there for work. In comparison, Lebanon has accepted 1.3 million refugees – more than a quarter of its population. Saudis argue that the tents in Mina are needed to host the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, but given that the Arabic concept of Ummah is supposed to offer protection to all Muslims under one brotherhood, surely an alternative location could be found so that Mina can be repurposed to house desperate families fleeing war and ISIS persecution?
This giant Saudi Arabian tent camp is empty
(Speisa) Did you ever wonder why these countries won’t help their fleeing Arabic Muslim companions?
One word: Hijra. Hijra is the Arabic word for “migration”, used to besiege new territories, as the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers did when they besieged Medina in the year 622, and the same way 56 nations have become Islamic until now.
Now Europe is up for grabs.
(emphasis added)
Saudi Arabia denies not giving Syrians sanctuary
Foreign ministry official says nation has received nearly 2.5 million Syrians since 2011, amid criticism of its efforts
(Al Jazeera) None of the six states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, has signed the UN convention on refugees, which has governed international law on asylum since World War Two. But Gulf states say they have taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the civil war there began in 2011, just not as refugees.
“[Saudi Arabia] gave whoever chose to stay in the kingdom, which are in the hundreds of thousands, proper residency … with all the rights that are included like free health care and engaging in the workforce and education.” The kingdom has also provided about $700m in humanitarian aid to Syrians and had set up clinics in various refugee camps, the statement by the SPA said.
The official source said more than 100,000 Syrian students were receiving free education in the kingdom.
The country has also provided humanitarian aid to countries hosting Syrian refugees and through international relief organisations.
10 September
Daniel Benjamin: The King and ISIS
Will our partners of seven decades, as U.S. officials like to refer to the Saudis, join in the fight against extremism and not just its terrorist end-product? Don’t count on it: Saudi Arabia has avoided taking such steps for decades, and there is no reason to think the kingdom can’t stay on its current course for decades more. As for the United States, it will remain saddled with tactical imperatives that prevent it from addressing the bigger mess. And so Washington will muddle forward against the jihadi threat.
(Brookings) One commentator who did dwell on the deep dissonance in the relationship was Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times column published just before King Salman’s arrival. … “Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam … and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam.”
Friedman is on target in arguing that Saudi Arabia’s contribution to Islamist extremism has far outstripped Iran’s. Indeed, Tehran’s effort to transcend sect and become the leader of the Muslim world’s radical rejectionist stream has been in tatters since the Arab Spring and the heightening of sectarian tensions because of the Syrian civil war. Although systemic misgovernance is the Arab world’s deadliest disease, Saudi Arabia’s energetic propagation of Wahhabism — which began as a response to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 — has been central to the rise of violent extremism, from Indonesia to Mali.
Wahhabism has been a devastating invasive species in Islam’s enormous ecosystem — it’s the zebra mussel, the Asian Tiger mosquito, and the emerald ash borer wrapped into one. The consequences have been fateful: A solid line of causation from the slaughter in Islamic State-controlled Iraq and the tragedy of 9/11 traces back directly to Saudi evangelization and the many radical mosques and extremist NGOs it spawned.
Friedman’s explanation for why the United States has never challenged Riyadh is crude — in both senses of the word. “We’re addicted to their oil and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers,” he wrote.
This is too easy; if oil were the only vital U.S. interest binding it to the kingdom, dealing with the export of extremism would be vastly easier. What Friedman and almost everyone else misses is the increasingly pivotal importance of counterterrorism cooperation in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. That may set heads spinning, but when it comes to tactical counterterrorism — uncovering conspiracies and disrupting them — Saudi Arabia has become an invaluable partner, one of the very best Washington has.
1 May
Which Way Will Saudi Arabia Swing?
(Brookings) Each week seems to bring new twists in Middle Eastern geopolitics, with shockwaves on the energy market and in particular oil prices. … this week it is the reshuffle in the Saudi Royal hierarchy.
The recent reshuffle in Saudi Arabia heralds a major break with established tradition and watershed in the trends of the oil industry. For more than thirty years, Saudi Arabia, being the world’s largest producer and exporter, has led the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel (OPEC) and, usually at the behest of the United States (US) and the other Western economies, regulated world oil prices by adjusting output to maintain what has until recently been high oil prices — a scenario which benefited the development of the high-cost oil fields of North America. This year has witnessed an ‘overnight’ seismic shift in policy as the Saudis rightly refuse to play the role of swing player. This shift in policy is in direct response to a challenge from the U.S. as the number one producer, given the U.S. surge in production in 2014 by over 16 percent, exceeding 10 million barrels a day (mbd).
The fact that both the U.S. and Russia have significantly increased oil production in recent years when OPEC output has been relatively stable at around 30mbd puts the blame for the recent collapse of oil prices squarely at the door of the two largest economies and the shale oil moguls. (BBC) Saudi Arabia shakes up state oil firm Aramco
16 April
Water-poor Saudi Arabia invests in Canadian Wheat Board’s grain
It isn’t easy to grow food in the desert. That’s why the kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to stop pumping water and money into its domestic food supply, and instead look abroad for sources of vegetables, red meat and grains.
The search for grain – and the elevators, terminals and ships that handle it – is behind the country’s investment in the Canadian Wheat Board.
Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co. (SALIC) partnered with U.S. agribusiness giant Bunge Ltd. to form Global Grain Group (G3), which will be the majority owner of Winnipeg-based CWB with an investment valued at $250-million.
Karl Gerrand, head of G3, said it was “very difficult” to say how much of CWB’s grain would be headed to Saudi Arabia as a result of the deal.
“SALIC will have to be competitive with the rest of the market in acquiring our grain. We’re an independent business, run by Canadians, managed by Canadians. We’re going to be operating in a normal commercial environment.”
6 March
Who can the Saudis trust when they find themselves on Netanyahu’s side?
John Kerry’s reassurances over the US-Iran deal will settle few nerves in the royal palaces, writes Robert Fisk
In their golden palaces, the Saudis fear.
They fear the Iranians. They fear the Shia. They fear Isis and al-Qaeda. They fear the Muslim Brotherhood. They fear American betrayal and Israeli plots. They even fear the “power” of tiny Qatar. They fear their own Shia population. They fear themselves. For where else will the revolution start in Sunni Muslim Saudi but within its own royal family?
5 March
Saudi king aims for new Sunni bloc vs. Iran and Islamic State
(Reuters via Euronews) – Saudi Arabia is pushing for Sunni Muslim Middle East countries to set aside differences over political Islam and focus on what it sees as more urgent threats from Iran and Islamic State.
Its new monarch, King Salman, has used summits with leaders of all five Gulf Arab states, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey over the past 10 days to reinforce the need for unity and find a way to work around disagreements over the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia’s deep-seated mistrust of the Islamist group is unchanged, diplomats say. But King Salman’s approach to it is more nuanced than that of his predecessor King Abdullah, who died in January, and may include being more indulgent of allies who allow its members space to operate. … Riyadh’s bigger concern is Shi’ite Iran. Its fears about the rising influence of its main regional enemy have grown recently as Tehran’s Houthi allies seized swathes of Yemen and its commanders have aided Shi’ite militias fighting in Iraq.
Prospects are also growing of a deal between world powers and Iran on Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme, which might lift pressure on the Islamic republic. Saudi Arabia has watched nervously as its key ally, the United States, has reached out to pursue an agreement with Tehran.
23 January
King Abdullah embodied the wickedness of Saudi Arabia’s regime
Change may be looming for Saudi Arabia, but reforming a country where torture, corruption and judicial murder are commonplace won’t be easy
salman-bin-abdul-aziz-al-saudWho is the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud?
(The Guardian) Those hoping he will bring a new era of reform to Saudi Arabia after the death of King Abdullah are likely to be disappointed
Profile: Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud
(Al Jazeera) Salman, defence minister since 2011, takes the throne at age of 79 after demise of his half-brother King Abdullah
‎The 79-year-old takes the helm at a time when the oil powerhouse is trying to navigate social pressures from a burgeoning youth population, and address reforms aimed at modernising the country.
He started his political career at a relatively young age, becoming the governor of Riyadh in 1963, and for nearly 50 years, oversaw the development of the Saudi capital from a small desert town to a major metropolis.
He was appointed minister of defence in 2011 and then heir apparent in 2012, when two elder full-brothers, Crown Princes Sultan and Nayef died within a year of each other.
The defence portfolio involved running the kingdom’s top-spending ministry, which used massive arms purchases to bolster ties with allies such as the United States, Britain and France.
Known to have extensive contacts among the country’s tribes, Salman’s influence is further extended through a network of family businesses, including a stake in the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

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