Middle East & Arab World – Saudi Arabia 2017-18

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Middle East & Arab World – Saudi Arabia 2015-17
Saudi Arabia – Canada international relations 2018

28 December
Shuffling the deck chairs in Saudi Arabia
Tamara Cofman Wittes and Bruce Riedel
(Brookings) The Saudi government yesterday announced a series of royal decrees that appointed a new foreign minister in place of the well-known Adel al-Jubeir, moved other officials into new positions, and established two new policymaking bodies, both headed inevitably by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The changes are intended to address the crisis that has erupted in its ties both to Washington and to international investors over the past few months. While insisting that there is no crisis, these moves are an admission by MBS of just how bad things have gotten. The depth of the problem is evident in the flight of foreign investors, the onslaught of bad press, the unprecedented Senate action rebuking the crown prince for his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the promise by Senator Lindsey Graham to prevent any new weapons transfers as long as Mohammed bin Salman remains in charge.  But these changes to process and personnel alone will not provide the intended reassurance—to signal a real change in direction, the kingdom must demonstrate that its policy is shifting away from the aggressive overreach that led to the present dire straits.

4 December
A searing analysis of the underpinnings of the US-Saudi relations
The Trump Team’s Fawning Over Saudi Arabia Is Getting Ridiculous
The latest: A fawning op-ed from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Politico) Saudi Arabia is not a U.S. ally no matter how many times the president, Pompeo and other senior administration officials affirm it. Unlike traditional allies, such as Britain, Canada, France or Australia, the Saudis don’t share fundamental American values: respect for human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. At best, they are an occasional and often reluctant, half-hearted security partner and their interests, particularly under the influence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (commonly known as MBS), only episodically align with ours.
Nor, as Trump and Pompeo have argued, can Saudi Arabia serve as the linchpin of America’s Middle East regional strategy. Indeed, the Trump administration has wildly exaggerated Saudi Arabia’s importance, inflated its capacity to play such a role and minimized the risks of our current relationship with MBS. The fact is, Saudi Arabia simply isn’t as important to the U.S. as it once was. The relationship needs to be reset and rebalanced to better protect American interests.

24 October
Reuters: Striking a defiant tone, Prince Mohammed told international investors at a major conference in Riyadh that the furor over Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul would not derail the kingdom’s reform drive. … The Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh was overshadowed by Khashoggi’s killing, with more than two dozen high-level participants withdrawing. But Saudi Arabia showed it could still do business despite the furor, signing deals worth $50 billion at the conference on Tuesday. The event was attended by hundreds of bankers and company executives. … The Saudi central bank governor sought to reassure foreign banks that withdrew from the conference that they would not be penalized and may apply for licenses to operate in the country, the Middle East’s largest economy.
So far there have been no mega announcements at the conference, in stark contrast to last year’s event that announced plans to build a $500 billion mega-city.

23 October
Larry Haas and Jeremy Kinsman weigh in on the diplomatic fallout surrounding Jamal Khashoggi’s death and the United States’ plan to withdraw from a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
Arab states fear Khashoggi case could trigger regional instability
(WaPost) Many have long worried about the prince’s ambition and perceived arrogance. Others resent Saudi dominance and wealth. Nearly all are shocked at what few doubt was the officially sanctioned killing and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.
But what worries the Arabs most, regional officials and experts say, is what they see as the danger to their own stability and security should Saudi Arabia’s status — and its close ties with the United States — be seriously undermined. If the administration decides — or is pressured by Congress and public opinion — to seriously step back from its alliance with Riyadh, “our security is at risk,” the gulf official said. “Iran might see another opportunity to destabilize.”

21 October
As Khashoggi crisis grows, Saudi king asserts authority, checks son’s power: sources
(Reuters) “The people around him are starting to tell him to wake up to what’s happening,” the source said.
Saudi attempts to distance crown prince from Khashoggi killing haven’t quieted uproar
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister denied on Sunday that the nation’s powerful young crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, but the attempt to distance Mohammed bin Salman from the journalist’s demise did little to blunt an international uproar that could test Saudi Arabia’s status as a regional ­power.

19 -20 October
This is the front line of Saudi Arabia’s invisible war
(NYT) The Saudi-led war in Yemen has ground on for more than three years, killing thousands of civilians and creating what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But it took the crisis over the apparent murder of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate two weeks ago for the world to take notice.
Saudi Arabia’s brash young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman…now faces a fresh reckoning for his ruthless prosecution of the war in Yemen — yet another foreign policy debacle for Saudi Arabia, and a catastrophe for the Arab world’s poorest country.
United Nations-led efforts to broker a peace have repeatedly failed – largely because sides feel they have more to gain from fighting, said Gregory D. Johnsen, a scholar on Yemen at the Arabia Foundation.
“Years of airstrikes failed to dislodge the Houthis, and their leaders now feel secure,” Mr. Johnsen said. “They think they can wait out the Saudis.”
In the meantime, a humanitarian catastrophe looms. A war-induced plunge in the value of Yemen’s currency last month has hastened a steep economic collapse. The United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Lise Grande, warns that 14 million Yemenis risk starvation in the coming months.
For Crown Prince Mohammed, the war ranks as a calamitous blunder, alongside the failed embargo he led against Qatar, the kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister and now, as mounting evidence suggests, the officially sanctioned operation that led to the death of Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul.
But for Yemenis, this is their home. The fight for Hudaydah is shaping up to be the most destructive chapter of the war that has shattered their country.

Khashoggi case sends fresh chill through Saudi elite
Months of repression had already convinced many they should think twice before speaking out
(The Guardian) In Riyadh and Jeddah, conversations about Khashoggi were conducted in hushed tones, often using only his first name to disguise the topic or mentioning only a “political crisis”. Some Saudis previously willing to offer cautious criticism of the political crackdown declined to speak at all.
Months of repression of critical voices …had convinced many that they should think twice before speaking out, even in private. But details of Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged dismemberment inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul have sent a fresh chill through the intellectual and elite Saudi circles that Khashoggi once mixed in. A paranoid quiet offline was matched only by fierce online battles, notably on Twitter, where many Saudis decried developments in the case drip-fed by Ankara as “fake news” created by western media outlets and enemy powers.
As a political crisis raged abroad, the Saudi Arabian press repeatedly claimed foreign powers were threatening their country and cooking up rumours intended to tarnish the its carefully crafted image, often with fleeting mention of the basis for these alleged attacks save for a line concerning Khashoggi’s “disappearance”.
Despite reassurances from the White House, tensions continued to affect the Future Investment Initiative conference, billed as “Davos in the desert” and scheduled to take place from 23 October in Riyadh. Attendees such as the International Monetary Fund chief, Christine Lagarde, the head of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, and the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, all declared they would not attend the event.
Silicon Valley’s Saudi ties face fresh scrutiny in wake of Khashoggi affair
SoftBank, the world’s largest tech investment fund, partnered with the Kingdom to pump billions into America’s startups
[Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son‘s] “Vision Fund” – an astounding $93bn in committed capital that eclipsed American venture capital firms – has given him enormous weight in the market and had a profound impact on America’s tech industry. Son hoped to launch a new kind of investment fund that would ramp up finances and spur his “Singularity” – a future where artificial intelligence surpasses human abilities. His futuristic vision was largely funded by a $45bn investment from Saudi Arabia.
While SoftBank may not yet be a household name for those outside investment and tech circles, many of the companies Son has chosen to fund are. WeWork, Slack, Wag!, DoorDash and Uber have all received huge investments from the Saudi-financed Vision Fund.
But, amid international outcry over the death of the dissident Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the money that helped this vision materialize, and enabled Son and SoftBank to have a dramatic impact on the industry, may now be its biggest liability. Close financial ties to Saudi Arabia have embroiled the company in geopolitical controversy, along with the startups that accepted its cash.

Uproar Over Dissident Rattles Saudi Royal Family
(NYT) But unlike 2001, when the royal family came together to protect its collective interests, this time that may not be possible. Instead, there is deep concern, as royals search, so far in vain, for a way to contain the crown prince, who has consolidated power so completely that nearly everyone else is marginalized.
The one person who could intervene is the king himself, but senior princes have found it nearly impossible to bring their concerns to the 82-year-old monarch, and some doubt he is fully aware of what is happening or willing to change course.

18 October
How the current crown prince changed Saudi Arabia — for the worse
(WaPost) The kingdom has long been an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate open dissent, but this kind of repression is new. In earlier times, Saudi rulers restricted behavior, often under severe interpretations of Islamic law, and carried out barbaric punishments. We have often called attention to the unjust treatment of blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes — 50 were delivered in a public square in Jeddah before it was stopped — and 10 years in prison for online posts that challenged the religious authorities to allow a more pluralistic and moderate practice of Islam. The system was intolerant and harsh.
But the old system allowed limited channels to express opinions. Those channels have been choked off under the reign of King Salman, who took over in 2015, and his son, Mohammed, who became crown prince in June 2017.
The new rulers reorganized agencies and rewrote the laws on counterterrorism — a legitimate security concern — to gain more power to quash dissent and imprison people for long periods on the slightest pretext.

17 October
Trump says he doesn’t want to abandon Riyadh in crisis over journalist
(Reuters) How the crown prince emerges from the crisis is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future. At issue will be to what extent the West believes responsibility for Khashoggi lies with the powerful young ruler.
Pompeo met Turkey’s president and foreign minister to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance, a day after Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt while U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership.

16 October
Why is the Trump administration cleaning up Saudi Arabia’s mess?
(WaPost editorial) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was said to be pressing in Riyadh on Tuesday for a “thorough, transparent and timely investigation” of the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But the best metaphor for Mr. Pompeo’s diplomacy seemed to be what reporters witnessed outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Mr. Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2: the arrival of a cleaning crew with buckets, mops and fluids. Mr. Pompeo, who smiled broadly as he greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, appeared less intent on determining the truth than in helping the de facto Saudi ruler escape from the crisis he triggered.

12 October
Saudi Arabia’s Troubled Revolution
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s would-be reformer, is snared in warfare and caught up in diplomatic outrage.
(Bloomberg/Business Week) The prince is gambling he can still excite investors with grand schemes such as a $500 billion megacity called Neom and a string of resorts on the Red Sea. But there isn’t much sign of it. Foreign direct investment flows have been falling for close to a decade and declined to just $1.4 billion in 2017, from $7.5 billion in 2016. MBS says investment picked up sharply in 2018—but much of this is likely to be oil-related. Over the past three years, Saudi investment flows have underperformed the region and the world by a wide margin.
The other big area where the prince has fallen short of his goals is jobs. His National Transformation Plan aims to bring the unemployment rate for Saudi nationals down to 9 percent by 2020, but joblessness has been rising since 2015 and now stands at 12.9 percent, the highest in more than a decade. During the interview, MBS says the rise was an inevitable side effect of the decision to move to a new economic model after the oil price collapse at the end of 2014. Under his leadership, the government has slashed spending, cut subsidies, and imposed value-added taxes. “You cannot do the restructuring without the side effects,” he says. “The unemployment rate will start to decline from 2019.”
Perhaps. But officials have suggested that at least some of the new jobs may come in the public sector—which directly goes against the aim to reduce the public-sector workforce. Planned pay cuts for civil servants have also been reversed.
MBS has achieved a fair amount in the domain of public-sector management and the budget. But when it comes to the basic obstacles in the way of doing business in Saudi Arabia, many would say that the reform process has barely begun.
A key unanswered question relates to the role of private businesses. Though the prince insists that they are to take a lead role in the economy, all the exciting projects so far have been associated with the state-owned PIF, and the regime has shown itself more than willing to trample on the private sector in pursuit of its goals….
Though he may have set out to transform his country, he’s done nothing to change the country’s utter dependence on the U.S. Trump has so far given the prince a long rein—both at home and abroad. The Khashoggi case may test that forbearance. If MBS loses the confidence of global business, he’s also going to fail in his historic bid to wean Saudi Arabia off oil.

27 August
Exclusive: Saudi king tipped the scale against Aramco IPO plans
The king spoke, and a $2 trillion dream went up in smoke.
(Reuters) For the past two years, Saudi Arabia has prepared to place up to 5 percent of Aramco, its national oil company on the stock market. Officials talked up the Saudi Aramco IPO with international exchanges, global banks and U.S. President Donald Trump. It was the brainchild of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir apparent of the world’s largest oil exporter. But after months of setbacks, the prince’s father, King Salman, stepped in to shelve the deal. … the shelving of the Aramco IPO is a major blow to the prince’s Vision 2030 reform program, which aims to fundamentally transform Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent, state-driven economy.

22 August
Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty against female human rights activist
Five human rights activists on trial, including one who would be the first female human rights activist to face capital punishment
(The Guardian) Saudi Arabian prosecutors are seeking the death sentence for five human rights activists, including a woman who is thought to be the first female campaigner in the country facing execution, rights groups have said.
Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shia activist arrested with her husband in 2015, will be tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal even though charges she faces relate to peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said.
“Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behaviour, is monstrous,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

19 August
Saudi Arabia plans to execute first female political activist
Public prosecutor’s decision sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ for women activists in the kingdom, human rights watchdog says
(The Independent) Human rights activists are campaigning to save the life of the first woman in Saudi Arabia to be sentenced to death over her political activism.
Israa al-Ghomgham, 29, was arrested along with her husband Moussa al-Hashem in December 2015 for their roles in organising anti-government protests in eastern Qatif province in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
At least 58 people are currently believed to be on death row in the country, which Amnesty International says ranks among the most “prolific executioners in the world”.

17 August
Saudi Arabia’s problem isn’t the Canada fight — it’s capital flight
The diplomatic dust-up has heightened the sense of risk in the Saudi investment climate, and is certain to scare more capital away
(Financial Post) As Saudi Arabia raises the stakes in its dispute with Canada, the economic fallout could worsen an already serious issue for the kingdom: capital flight. Trade between the two countries is small, valued at roughly US$4 billion, but the diplomatic dust-up has heightened the sense of risk in the Saudi investment climate, and is certain to scare even more capital away.
According to research by JPMorgan, capital outflows of residents in Saudi Arabia are projected at US$65 billion in 2018, or 8.4 per cent of GDP. This is less than the US$80 billion lost in 2017, but a sign of a continued bleed. Significantly, the projection was made before the contretemps with Canada. According to research by Standard Chartered, the first quarter of 2018 saw US$14.4 billion in outward portfolio investment into foreign equities, the largest surge since 2008. There are concerns that the government is leaning on banks and asset managers to discourage outflows, a kind of informal capital-control regime.
This flight signals the dimming of the optimism surrounding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic plan. Many of the institutional reforms outlined in the plan — designed to diversify the Saudi economy, attract foreign investment and create jobs — are needed to liberalize the state-led, resource-dependent economy. Investors had hoped Riyadh would follow through on economic reforms, but have been disheartened by such high-profile actions as the arrest of prominent businessmen last year, and a recent campaign to silence critics, especially women activists. These measures — add to them now the spat with Canada — indicate that the state favours regime stability and consolidation over the rule of law, and the creation of institutions and regulations that can check the state.
Whatever the political compulsions behind these actions, they have done little to address the fundamental problem of the Saudi economy — that it is captive to, and reliant on, the state. For private-sector growth to take place, capital needs to feel safe, and investors need legal guarantees to protect them. But this has not happened

2 August
What does an empowered Saudi woman look like?
(Brookings) When I think of what women living such a grounded-but-open Saudi Arabia might look like, I think of Hatoon al-Fassi, who showed me from the first moment we met a model of a Saudi woman who is proud in her heritage, faith, and family, and equally confident in her contribution to public affairs. That’s why it is mystifying that Hatoon has now spent more than a month in detention in her home country, at precisely the moment when the causes she’s long supported are now seeing unprecedented gains. She is among about a dozen women activists detained by authorities as the Kingdom implemented a policy change they long sought: lifting the ban on women driving
…  I’ve visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia twice this year, and the swift pace of change is palpable—from officials in Riyadh rushing to complete the city’s new public transit system, to the young families enjoying an evening of music at one of the city’s proliferating cultural festivals. The young women I spoke to were elated at the prospect of new professional opportunities in government and the private sector. Through her teaching, her scholarship, her newspaper columns, and her own example, Hatoon has helped prepare a generation of Saudi women to participate in this change.

1 August
Saudi Arabia Planned to Invade Qatar Last Summer. Rex Tillerson’s Efforts to Stop It May Have Cost Him His Job.
(The Intercept) … in the months that followed his departure, press reports strongly suggested that the countries lobbying hardest for Tillerson’s removal were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which were frustrated by Tillerson’s attempts to mediate and end their blockade of Qatar. One report in the New York Times even suggested that the UAE ambassador to Washington knew that Tillerson would be forced out three months before he was fired in March.

11 July
Martin Patriquin: Canada, Saudi Arabia and Daniel Turp’s heroic crusade
Despite legal setbacks, the law professor continues to wage war against Ottawa over the sale of armoured vehicles to a murderous regime.
(Montreal Gazette) Turp has been consistently stymied by the courts, which have ruled that Ottawa, in considering how these armed vehicles may undermine the “peace, security or stability in any region of the world or within any country,” had satisfied the tenets of the law regarding this type of sale. This week, Turp suffered another setback when for a second time a federal court judge ruled the government hadn’t “exercised its discretion in an unreasonable manner” during the sale of the vehicles.
And yet facts seemingly belie the government’s case even as Canadian courts bolster it. Last July, the Saudi National Guard deployed the Gurkha RPV, a Canadian-made armoured personnel carrier, in the predominantly Shia town of Al-Awamiyah, killing several civilians. The government suspended arms sales to Saudi for a probe into the incident. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland declared herself “deeply concerned.” Yet sales resumed when the resulting report concluded the Saudis had used “proportionate and appropriate force” against its citizens.

16 June
VIDEO: Putin jokes with Saudi Crown Prince during Moscow meeting
At the meeting, the Russian president stressed the strong relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia. “You know our warm feelings for you, but I hope you understand that I cannot hope for success for your team today and may the best team win,” Putin told Prince Mohammed bin Salman..

12 June
Horror Multiplies in Yemen
(NYT Editorial) Standing by. That’s about all the Trump administration has been doing as America’s allies on the Arabian Peninsula prepared to intensify Yemen’s misery.
A coalition led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is poised to attack the Red Sea port of Al Hudaydah, the home to 600,000 Yemenis and the lifeline for humanitarian aid that sustains most of the country’s people. Early Wednesday morning, there were reports that the battle for the port city had in fact begun.
The United Nations and nongovernmental organizations like the International Committee for the Red Cross withdrew their staffs as the attack on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who seized Al Hudaydah two years ago, looked increasingly certain. … Experts have predicted that 250,000 people could be killed or displaced in the offensive. …
Over the course of this conflict, President Trump has emboldened Saudi and emirati leaders. He shares their antipathy for Iran and will sell them virtually any weapon they want.

5 April
One Way Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman Can Prove He Is Sincere About His Reforms: Free Raif Badawi
(TIME) …while the Crown Prince travels the world touting a transformed Kingdom, Badawi has languished in a Saudi prison for almost six years now, for professing his vision for remaking the region.
Using a blog to exercise his right to freedom of expression, Badawi unmasked a culture of corruption and criminality, as well as the impunity that underpinned them; he challenged religious intolerance and extremism, and sparked a discussion on modernization. In short, Badawi paved the way for today’s discourse and developments in Saudi Arabia concerning what the Crown Prince himself has called a “moderate Islam” and combating the “cancer of corruption.”

3 April
Saudi Prince Says Israelis Have Right to ‘Their Own Land’
(NYT) Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince has said that Israelis “have the right to have their own land” and that formal relations between Israel and the kingdom could be mutually beneficial.
The comments by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an interview published on Monday reflected the distinctly warmer tone toward Israel adopted recently …  the kingdom’s stance toward Israel has changed with the rise of Prince Mohammed, who is 32 and is seeking to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s economy and its place in the world. His words on Monday were actually less harsh toward the Palestinians than reports of his previous statements.

2 April
Saudi Crown Prince: Iran’s Supreme Leader ‘Makes Hitler Look Good’
By Jeffrey Goldberg
In a wide-ranging conversation, Prince Mohammed bin Salman also recognized the Jewish people’s right to “their own land.”
(The Atlantic) This much, at least, can be said for Mohammed bin Salman, the putatively reformist crown prince of Saudi Arabia: He has made all the right enemies. Among those who would celebrate his end are the leaders of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as well as Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and the entire clerical and military leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a bonus, there are members of his own family, the sprawling, sclerotic, self-dealing House of Saud, who would like to see him gone—or at the very least, warehoused at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, where the 32-year-old prince recently imprisoned many of his enemies and cousins during an anti-corruption sweep of the kingdom.
(Politico) KNOWING MOHAMMED BIN-SALMAN … DEXTER FILKINS in the New Yorker, “The Ascent: A Saudi prince’s quest to remake the Middle East” — In his work with the White House, is Mohammed bin Salman driving out extremism, or merely seizing power for himself?:  ‘M.B.S. is unlike his brothers, several of whom were educated in the West and one of whom has a doctorate from Oxford,’ a longtime friend of M.B.S. told me. ‘If you look at them and you talk to them, they are basically soft. And there is this quality to M.B.S.-the guy’s not soft. He has a lot of charisma.’

21 March
What the Saudi Prince’s Visit Really Means
by Ahmed Charai
(Gatestone) Perhaps the most dramatic Saudi reform is the one that has received virtually no attention in America. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has led an effort to sweep out the Muslim Brotherhood from teaching and leadership positions in elementary, middle and high schools as well as colleges and universities.
The stakes of his fight with the Brotherhood could not be higher. If MBS succeeds, Saudi Arabia returns to pre-1979 roots, with movie theaters, women in the workplace, and features of a modern developing country. If MBS fails, he will be killed by the Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia will become more repressive than ever.
The global stakes of MBS’s internal fight with the Brotherhood are large, too. If the crown price wins, nearly all Saudi funding for violent Islamic radicals ends — and if he dies, it grows to new heights.
His “Vision 2030” is the biggest planned change in any country since Turkey’s Ataturk or Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. With America’s encouragement, Saudi Arabia could lead a regional transformation that would be truly historic. MBS is betting his life that he can reform his country and offer it a future beyond its dangerous dependency on oil. He wants to build 18 nuclear power plants over the next two decades, thereby safeguarding his nation’s electricity prices from the rollercoaster of world oil prices. He wants to diversify the economy, allowing men and women to leave their subsidized and static lives for new roles as professionals, executives and entrepreneurs.
Finally, MBS’s visit allows the Saudi royal to talk about his nation’s increasingly warm relationship with Israel. The two nations have a common enemy (Iran) and a shared interest in thwarting terrorism. Together with MBS’s apparently close friendship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, a new and less confrontational relationship with Israel could pay dividends for peace.

16 March
(Quartz) American investors grew suspicious of Saudi Aramco’s mega IPO. The oil giant’s offering has been delayed in part because US investors have been pushing back on the $2 trillion valuation, according to Bloomberg. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to go to the White House on March 20.

14 February
A New Kingdom of Saud?
(Brookings) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing a process of change in its social, economic, and political structures unseen since its founding in 1932. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and a group of close advisors, aided by an army of multinational consultants and investment bankers, have been driving this transformation.
Prince Mohammed and his team are seeking to restructure the Saudi economy, lessening its dependence on oil and creating more socioeconomic opportunities for the Saudi people. In 2016, “Saudi Vision 2030” was launched, providing an ambitious blueprint to achieve these goals and more. … are these reforms part of a genuine nation-building program, or are they a vehicle for Prince Mohammed to solidify his hold on power for decades to come?

12 February
Giving up control of Brussels mosque, Saudi Arabia sends a signal
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has agreed to give up control of Belgium’s largest mosque in a sign that it is trying to shed its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
Belgium’s willingness to put its demands to oil-producing Saudi Arabia, a major investor and arms client, breaks with what EU diplomats describe as the reluctance of governments across Europe to risk disrupting commercial and security ties.
Riyadh’s quick acceptance indicates a new readiness by the kingdom to promote a more moderate form of Islam – one of the more ambitious promises made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under plans to transform Saudi Arabia and reduce its reliance on oil.
The agreement last month coincides with a new Saudi initiative, not publicly announced but described to Reuters by Western officials, to end support for mosques and religious schools abroad blamed for spreading radical ideas.

29 January
Guilt, fines remain hazy as Saudi corruption purge draws to close
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabian media magnate Waleed al-Ibrahim was found innocent in an anti-corruption purge, a source at his company said on Monday, part of a wider campaign against graft whose secrecy could hurt the country’s effort to win foreign investment. … officials said all of the men, who included billionaire global investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, had agreed to financial settlements after admitting to unspecified “violations”.
But the allegations against the men and their settlements have been kept secret, leaving the global investment community to wonder what the penalties are for large-scale corruption in Saudi Arabia – and whether detainees were actually guilty.


Mohammed bin Salman’s Shakeup Is More Than a Power Play
High-profile arrests reflect the Saudi crown prince’s emerging brand of authoritarian populism for the post-oil era.
By Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House.
All this adds up to a dramatic break with the past. It is an attempt to a transition to a new model of government while preserving the continuity of Al Saud rule. And it represents an authoritarian populist approach which has an anti-establishment flavour despite coming from the heart of the ruling family.
(Chatham House) Since his father came to the throne in early 2015, MBS has launched several simultaneous projects– overhauling the economy, liberalizing social life, adopting a new confrontational foreign policy and most recently reforming the country’s interpretation of Islam – while restructuring the traditional royals-plus-clerics model of government in order to centralize power in his own hands. He has been unafraid of alienating traditional supporters and is betting on a new youth constituency that wants to see change.
The dramatic and high-profile arrests over the weekend serve three of these projects. On the economy, MBS is cutting government spending and courting foreign investment. Tackling corruption can be seen as a way of cutting costs, as well as signalling to foreign investors that this will no longer be such a risk to those doing business in the kingdom.
Arresting the kingdom’s richest man, Prince Waleed bin Talal, as well as princes and ministers, is being pitched as a sign no one is above the law – and fighting corruption is more credible if it starts at the top. But fighting corruption systematically also requires developing institutions and the rule of law. Just before the arrests were announced, MBS was made the head of a new anti-corruption commission, whereas in many countries this would be a judge or bureaucrat rather than a political leader. (6 November 2017)

23 December
“The Price of Freedom for Saudi Arabia’s Richest Man: $6 Billion,” by WSJ’s Margherita Stancati in Riyadh, Summer Said in Dubai and Benoit Faucon in London: “Saudi authorities are demanding at least $6 billion from Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to free him from detention … The prince’s fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion by Forbes, which would make him the Middle East’s wealthiest individual. But Prince al-Waleed has indicated that he believes raising and handing over that much cash would be an admission of guilt and would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years.” http://on.wsj.com/2DC9I4w

22 November
Lebanese PM Saad Hariri suspends resignation
Hariri, whose resignation prompted fears Saudis had forced him out, eases regional tension by putting decision on hold
The postponement of his resignation will offer a brief respite for the Lebanese, who are struggling with the spillover from the war in Syria, tensions arising from Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict alongside Bashar al-Assad, and a large refugee population in a country already riven by sectarian divisions.

19 November
Lebanese PM Saad Hariri returning to Beirut despite his resignation
(CNN) “I’ll be in Beirut in the next few days to participate in the Independence Day celebrations [which start on Wednesday],” Hariri told reporters after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Saudi men in front of a poster of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this month in Riyadh. Credit Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

16 – 17 November
Saudis negotiate with detained corruption suspects to pay for their freedom
(Financial Times) Saudi authorities are negotiating settlements with princes and businessmen held over allegations of corruption, offering deals for the detainees to pay for their freedom, people briefed on the discussions say.
In some cases the government is seeking to appropriate as much as 70 per cent of suspects’ wealth, two of the people said, in a bid to channel hundreds of billions of dollars into depleted state coffers. Click here to read more..

The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games
Shlomo Ben-Ami: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.
(Project Syndicate) Saudi Arabia has already suffered from the farcical failure of its blockade on Qatar, not to mention its two disastrous attempts to stem Iranian advances in Syria and Yemen. Add to that MBS’s ham-fisted political purge, and the escalation in Lebanon may be viewed as a desperate gambit.

Robert Fisk: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri accepts exile in France as Saudi Arabia no longer feels like a home away from home
It’s worth remembering how much Saad Hariri liked – and quite probably still does like – Saudi Arabia
When 32-year old Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia tried to destroy the power of Shia Islam, Lebanon (and Hariri) were bound to be targets of this dangerous young man’s fury. The prince had tried to destroy Bashar al-Assad’s Shia regime. He failed. He launched a war against the Shias of Yemen. It turned into a disaster. He tried to economically strangle Qatar – because of its close relations with Iran – and liquidate the Al Jazeera channel, and he failed. So now he turned his massive irritation against Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia’s Revolution From Above
Joschka Fischer: After becoming the heir apparent to the Saudi throne earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has quickly consolidated his power and begun to usher in a period of radical change. But as he overhauls the country’s domestic and foreign policies, he is also heightening the risk of another conflict in the Middle East.
(Project Syndicate) [L]est we forget, the last autocratic ruler in the Middle East who attempted to bypass his country’s Islamic clergy and carry out a top-down revolution was the Shah of Persia, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He and his “White Revolution” were eventually swept away by Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
One can only hope that MBS’s revolution will fare better. If it fails, the radical Salafists who will assume power in Riyadh will make the Iranian mullahs look like liberals. If it succeeds in modernizing the leading bastion of reactionary Islam, the stage would be set for other countries throughout the Islamic world to do the same.

What It Takes To Make Saudi Islam ‘Moderate’
A new scholarly center in Saudi Arabia is being branded as part of a program “with the purpose of eliminating fake and extremist texts” from Saudis’ practice of Islam, but the plan has uncertain chances of success and could even backfire
By Sigal Samuel
Can you curb religious fundamentalism by “eliminating fake and extremist texts”?
(The Atlantic) There’s also no indication that they’re going to undertake the intellectual overhaul needed to disentangle Saudi Islam from the extremist offshoot of Salafism that stems from the teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. That theologian’s teachings date back to the 1700s, meaning that the root of the problem is nearly 300 years old—not 30 years old, as the crown prince said when he linked it to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The prince’s statement was troublesome, and not just because the arithmetic was off; that he located the issue in such recent history suggests he’s not interested in a major foundational shake-up.
If Saudi Arabia tackles the problem only superficially, there’s no reason to expect it will effect deep change. Worse, it could backfire. “The unintended effect could be that this undermines Saudi religious credibility,” said Annelle Sheline, a doctoral student at George Washington University who studies Arab monarchies’ attempts to use state control of religious institutions to reduce extremism.

Saudi Arabia Has No Idea How to Deal With Iran
By Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for Middle East security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
(NYT) Fundamentally, who prevails in the rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh comes down to capacity and competence. Iran has the networks, expertise, experience and strategic patience required to fight and win proxy wars at low cost and with plenty of disingenuous deniability. The Saudis simply don’t, which is why seeking to beat the Iranians at this game is dangerous and costly.
Iran has another strength: It has demonstrated that it will be there for its friends and allies in good and bad times. Saudi Arabia does not have the same constancy. Just ask Syrian rebels, Iraqi tribal leaders and Lebanese politicians.
Being mostly right on the Iranian menace is not enough. Rolling back Iran, a worthy and urgent goal, will require a broad international consensus and a less aggressive Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, unattainable foreign ambitions distract, at great cost, from the more important and momentous task of internal reform.

8-9 November
Saudi Arabia Orders Its Citizens Out of Lebanon, Raising Fears of War
(NYT) Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon on Thursday, escalating a bewildering crisis between the two Arab nations and raising fears that it could lead to an economic crisis or even war. While analysts said a war was unlikely — because Saudi Arabia was not capable of waging one and Israel did not want one now — they worried that with so many active conflicts in the region, any Saudi actions that raised the temperature increased the risk of an accidental conflagration.
Lebanon becomes next target of Saudi Arabia’s folly
By Bessma Momani, professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the University of Waterloo and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation and Brookings Doha.
(Globe & Mail) With the call for Saudi citizens to immediately leave Lebanon, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman, also known as MBS, seems intent on putting Saudi Arabia on the path to yet another conflict in the region with no clear exit strategy.
Trump’s bet on the Saudis looks increasingly dangerous
By Bruce Riedel
(Brookings) Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his favorite son, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, have broken with the traditional patterns of consensual politics in the royal family, and the results are likely to be a much less stable kingdom with increasingly impulsive and erratic policies. …
The kingdom has always been a police state and an absolute monarchy married to a theocracy. But royal politics inside the family observed a certain decorum. If a prince or minister was removed he kept his honor and integrity, no one was humiliated. If a prince or princess misbehaved he or she was quietly detained, without any publicity, for private rehabilitation….  The current wave of arrests has taken those detained to a former guest palace outside Riyadh where they are isolated from outsiders. Until Saturday, it was a hotel.
Powerful interest groups in the family have now seen their longstanding power centers stripped away. Their fortunes are being seized by the state, which is cash short due to low oil prices and wasteful spending. The young prince is making a lot of enemies.
(Quartz) Saudi Arabia’s newest jail has a 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor.

7 November
Saudi Arabia royal purge: Why it matters so much to the world beyond its borders
From the UK and US to Yemen, Qatar, Turkey and Lebanon – the fallout from the Crown Prince’s ‘corruption’ sweep could be felt across many nations
(The Independent) Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud wants to consolidate authority in Saudi Arabia in his hands and, at the same time, be the kingmaker in other lands. It is an extraordinarily high-risk strategy, and one even the seemingly uber-confident young Prince would not have embarked on without a powerful outside sponsor.

4 – 5 November
Saudi Arabia Arrests 11 Princes, Including Billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal
(NYT) Saudi Arabia announced the arrest on Saturday night of the prominent billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, plus at least 10 other princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers.
The announcement of the arrests was made over Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned satellite network whose broadcasts are officially approved. Prince Alwaleed’s arrest is sure to send shock waves both through the Kingdom and the world’s major financial centers.
The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman.
At 32, the crown prince is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, foreign, economic and social policies, stirring murmurs of discontent in the royal family that he has amassed too much personal power, and at a remarkably young age.
The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests.
Citigroup, 21st Century Fox, Twitter: Prince’s Arrest Touches Many
Among Prince Alwaleed’s crown jewels: sizable stakes in Twitter, Lyft, Citigroup and 21st Century Fox. He has gone into business with some of the corporate world’s biggest titans, from Bill Gates to Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg.
His investments span the globe, including the historic George V hotel in Paris, the Savoy in London and the Plaza in New York. He has also invested in the AccorHotels chain and Canary Wharf, the London business development.

17 October
The remaking of Saudi Arabia: This time it can’t afford to fail
(MSN) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, has emerged as the unrivaled leader of the kingdom, now better placed to steer it through a transition no nation in history has managed to pull off: converting a major economy reliant on petrodollars into one that can survive in a post-oil 21st century.
The grand remake involves investing in new industries and creating jobs for the young Saudi population. It will all be underpinned by the sale of a stake in oil giant Aramco, which is now facing possible delay, and the creation of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund.
But almost two years since the start of the reform drive, officials are grappling with crucial questions of how to save money and speed up social change without crippling the economy and clashing with one of the world’s most conservative religious establishments.

11 October
In blocking arms to Yemen, Saudi Arabia squeezes a starving population
Saudi Arabia and its allies want to cut off the flow of weapons to Houthi fighters in Yemen. But with cholera spreading and famine looming, essential supplies are not getting through either.
(Reuters) A U.N. system set up in May 2016 to ease delivery of commercial goods through the blockade has failed to ensure the Yemeni people get the supplies they need.
The result is the effective isolation of Yemen, a nation of 28 million people where a quarter of the population is starving, according to the United Nations. The war has claimed 10,000 lives. Half a million children under the age of five are severely malnourished, and at least 2,135 people, most of them children, have died of cholera in the past six months.
Aid agencies have ramped up their deliveries of food to some parts of Yemen this year. But Yemen imports more than 85 percent of its food and medicine, and commercial shipments have plunged.
In the cases of the Kota Nazar and 12 other ships examined in detail by Reuters, the Saudi-led blockade turned away or severely delayed vessels carrying aid and commercial goods before they reached Yemeni ports even though the United Nations had cleared the cargo and there were no arms aboard. Seven of those vessels were carrying medicine and food in addition to other supplies.
Aid shipments are caught in the net. One of the seven vessels was carrying antibiotics, surgical equipment and medication for cholera and malaria for 300,000 people. The shipment was held up for three months, during which $20,000 worth of medicine was damaged or expired, according to U.K.-based aid group Save the Children.

27 September
Saudi Arabia: Prince Mohammed plays his biggest card yet
Change in the kingdom usually happens at a stately pace but lifting of driving ban for women was shock to the system
A rumbling war in Yemen, a festering standoff with Qatar, and a turbulent time at home: things haven’t being going well for Saudi Arabia lately.
The essence has been seized upon by many Saudi women, who say things as simple as school runs and shopping trips will, from June next year – when the law comes into effect – be far easier. So too will commuting to work, or visiting friends, or relatives – and here’s the catch – as long as those relatives accept.
The key change is that there is no longer any legal prohibition for women to drive. And nor, according to the statements of the formerly reluctant clerics, is there a basis for a ban in sharia law, which governs most aspects of Saudi society. The onus of decisions about whether women can sit behind the wheel has been shifted from the state to families.
Under repressive guardianship laws, male relatives have veto over whether wives or daughters can leave the home unaccompanied. While a woman can be granted a licence and is allowed to drive, a male family member can still stop her from doing so. (Al Jazeera) Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive</strong> Royal decree announcing decision signed by King Salman will be effective immediately but rollout will take months.

22 September

Saudi Arabia accidentally prints textbook showing Yoda sitting next to the king
The founding of the United Nations was a historic moment that saw leaders from across the planet join together to commit to a more peaceful world.
But most historians don’t remember the Jedi master Yoda being among them.
The Saudi government is scrambling to withdraw a history textbook that accidentally included a doctored photograph of King Faisal sitting next to the little green Star Wars character.
The picture was supposed to illustrate a section on the King’s rule but somehow the book’s editors used a version that showed Yoda perched next to the monarch as he signed the UN charter.
The black-and-white photograph of Faisal and Yoda is the work of a 26-year-old Saudi artist named Abdullah al-Sheri. “I am the one who designed it, but I am not the one who put it in the book,” he told the New York Times.

3 September
Pilgrims return to Mecca as haj winds down without incident
More than two million pilgrims participating in the haj this week began returning to Mecca on Sunday for final prayers as the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims winds down.
Senior Saudi officials said the rituals, which have in the past seen deadly stampedes, fires and riots to which authorities sometimes struggled to respond, had gone off without incident.
Mecca province governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who heads the central haj committee, called this year’s pilgrimage a success.
More than 2.3 million pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia this year, most of them from abroad, for the five-day ritual.

The great Saudi sell-off: why bankers and lawyers are flocking to the Gulf
The kingdom’s privatisation plans dwarf those of Thatcher or even the post-Soviet ‘Wild East’. And they will change the country out of all recognition
(The Guardian) Saudi Arabia is lining up a privatisation of state assets that dwarfs the Thatcher “revolution” of the 1980s, and rivals the 1990s dissolution of Soviet assets in scale and significance. It has hung a “for sale” sign on virtually every sector of Saudi economic life: oil, electricity, water, transport, retail, schools and healthcare. Even the kingdom’s football clubs are due to be auctioned off.
The sell-off programme is the central part of the economic transformation plan envisaged under the Vision 2030 strategy. With oil stuck around the $50 mark, Saudi budgets are creaking and deficits are widening. Around $75 is regarded as the break-even point for the national finances.
But in 13 years, if all goes to plan, the kingdom will be financially stable, with a more dynamic economy and society, less reliance on oil and government spending, and with a thriving private sector that releases the pent-up entrepreneurial spirit of Saudi men and (whisper it in the kingdom) Saudi women. (2 September 2017).

20 August
Is the Saudi-led coalition failing in Yemen? (video)
Confidential UN report sheds light on the coalition’s more than two-year-long military campaign against Houthi fighters.

26 June
Robert Fisk: By demanding the end of Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia is trying to turn Qatar into a vassal state
If Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman can rush into a hopeless war with the Houthis of Yemen, why shouldn’t he threaten the body politic of Qatar?
So serious has the Saudi-Qatar crisis now become that the Qatari Foreign Minister is reportedly planning an emergency trip to Washington in the next few days in the hope that the Trump regime can save his emirate. For Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani knows very well that if Qatar submits to the 13 unprecedented – some might say outrageous – demands that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have made, it will cease to exist as a nation state.

23 June
(Quartz) One big risk in putting Saudis to work. Expats hold half the jobs in the kingdom, and phasing out foreign workers is a goal of the government as it diversifies beyond oil. Yet if more of its subjects earn their own livings, Bloomberg’s Dana El Baltaji and Glen Carey argue, they may very well insist on a bigger voice in the affairs of state.

Saudi Arabia: Heiring grievances
(The Economist) On June 21st King Salman replaced his crown prince with Muhammad bin Salman, his son. This elevation is a striking break with tradition: power is now concentrated in a single branch of the royals’ family tree. Some relatives see MBS as a man in a hurry—too much of one. Concerns abound over his ambitious agenda at home. His rash intervention in Yemen has hurt his credibility—and he seems to have learned little from it

21 June
Saudi king names son as new crown prince, upending the royal succession line
(WaPost) Saudi Arabia’s King Salman elevated his 31-year-old son on Wednesday to become crown prince, ousting his nephew in a seismic shift in the royal succession line that could have deep ramifications for the oil-rich monarchy and the broader Middle East.
In a series of royal decrees, published in the Saudi state news agency, the monarch stripped Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef from his position. Nayef, a powerful figure who as interior minister oversaw the kingdom’s security and counterterrorism operations, was in line to inherit the throne. He was relieved of all his positions, according to the decrees.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new crown prince, will also become the kingdom’s deputy prime minister while retaining his control of the Defense Ministry and other portfolios. The decree all but confirms him as the next ruler of this key American ally and the Arab world’s largest economy.
The surprise announcement arrives at a critical time for the Sunni Muslim kingdom as it grapples with the economic fallout from declining oil prices and a costly military campaign it leads against Shiite rebels in neighboring Yemen. The kingdom is also leading a bloc of Arab nations that has launched a controversial campaign to isolate the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, accusing it of supporting and financing terrorism.

20 June
State Department issues unusual public warning to Saudi Arabia and UAE over Qatar rift
“At this point, we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns about Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long-simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries?”
The blockade was announced shortly after Trump last month made Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first overseas trip. He received an extravagant welcome, and lavished his hosts with praise. He also met with leaders of the UAE and Qatar individually, as well as at a GCC gathering, and signed a unity agreement with them.
Within days after his departure, Saudi Arabia announced the Qatar blockade. Trump tweeted his support.
Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, however, called for mediation and a quick resolution of the dispute. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command and launches air operations to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan from a massive base there.

11 June
Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World
By Stephen Kinzer
(Common Dreams) Recent events in Indonesia shine a light on a Saudi project that is even more pernicious than financing terrorists. Saudi Arabia has used its wealth, much of which comes from the United States, to turn entire nations into hotbeds of radical Islam. By refusing to protest or even officially acknowledge this far-reaching project, we finance our own assassins — and global terror.
The surging fundamentalism that is transforming Indonesia teaches several lessons. First is one that we should already have learned, about the nature of the Saudi government. It is an absolute monarchy supported by one of the world’s most reactionary religious sects. It gives clerics large sums to promote their anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic brand of religious militancy abroad. In exchange, the clerics refrain from criticizing the Saudi monarchy or its thousands of high-living princes. Saudis with close ties to the ruling family give crucial support to groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. This fact should be at the front of our minds whenever we consider our policy toward the Middle East — including when we decide whether to side with the Saudis in their new dispute with neighboring Qatar.

8 June
Robert Fisk: This is the real story behind the economic crisis unfolding in Qatar
(The Independent)… there are growing suspicions in the Gulf that Qatar has much larger ambitions: to fund the rebuilding of post-war Syria. Even if Assad remained as president, Syria’s debt to Qatar would place the nation under Qatari economic control. And this would give tiny Qatar two golden rewards. It would give it a land empire to match its al-Jazeera media empire. And it would extend its largesse to the Syrian territories, which many oil companies would like to use as a pipeline route from the Gulf to Europe via Turkey, or via tankers from the Syrian port of Lattakia.
For Europeans, such a route would reduce the chances of Russian oil blackmail, and make sea-going oil routes less vulnerable if vessels did not have to move through the Gulf of Hormuz.
So rich pickings for Qatar – or for Saudi Arabia …. A Saudi military force in Qatar would allow Riyadh to gobble up all the liquid gas in the emirate.

5 June
The $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia is fake news
By Buce Riedel
(Brookings) I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.

22 May
The Showman Cometh
By Dr. Charles G. Cogan
(HuffPost) Lurking behind all the glitter and wealth lies the most fraught issue in Saudi Arabia today: who is going to be the next king? The age-challenged King Salman, 79, broke tradition by removing a fellow son of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdal Aziz, from the line of succession and brought in two grandsons, as the Crown Prince and the Deputy Crown Prince. The former is Mohammed bin Nayif, 56, the childless son of the late Interior Minister, Prince Nayif. The Crown Prince sat smilingly by in the Trump meetings. The Deputy Crown Prince is King Salman’s favorite son, the highly dynamic Prince Mohamed bin Salman. More recently, King Salman has named Prince Mohammed’s younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, a Saudi Air Force pilot who has flown combat missions in Yemen, to be Ambassador to the United States. Whether King Salman’s appointments means that he is seeking to outflank Crown Prince Mohammed is the question of the day.,

The Big Problem with President Trump’s Record Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia
(TIME) Much of that military hardware will likely be pressed into service in the Saudi fight against its neighbor Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have been killed over more than two years of heavy airstrikes and fighting.
This puts the U.S. in a precarious ethical position, say human rights groups and former U.S. officials. The Saudi-led airstrike campaign has hit numerous schools, hospitals, factories, and other civilian targets, leading to well-documented allegations of war crimes by human rights organizations. The war has also pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation, with more than 17 million people facing famine, according to the U.N.
“There’s a humanitarian aspect that tends to be ignored. This is something that will come back to bite the Saudis as well, and by implication the Americans, because we’re the ones providing the bombs and bullets,” says Robert Jordan, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia appointed by George W. Bush.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and a coalition of predominantly Arab states launched a military intervention in Yemen in 2015 in order to drive back Houthi rebels who seized the capital and forced the recognized government to flee. Saudi officials say the campaign is also intended to combat the expanding influence of Iran, which they accuse of supporting the rebels.

(WaPost Worldview) Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who traveled with Trump to Saudi Arabia, made a startling comment on television, apparently praising his Saudi hosts for the absence of dissent in the country. “There’s no question that they’re liberalizing their society,” said Ross on CNBC. “The other thing that was fascinating to me, there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.”
When his interlocutor suggested this could be the result of state repression, Ross seemed unmoved. “In theory that could be true,” said Ross. “But, boy, there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn’t anything. The mood was a genuinely good.”
Trump’s speech in Riyadh mentioned nothing of democracy or human rights. Ross was spotted napping during the address.

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