Middle East & Arab World: Saudi Arabia 2021-

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Saudi Arabia

11-12 September
Biden Declassifies Secret FBI Report Detailing Saudi Nationals’ Connections To 9/11
(NPR) The partially redacted report paints a closer relationship than had been previously known between two Saudis in particular — including one with diplomatic status — and some of the hijackers.
The Fall of the bin Ladens
The family might have thrived indefinitely after Osama’s death but for the ambitions of Mohammed bin Salman.
By Steve Coll
(The New Yorker) The bin Ladens figure in our history as a family because their collective experience of a borderless, technology-enabled, and media-saturated world inadvertently inspired in Osama a vision of terrorism that would exploit the world’s growing connectivity. His innovations as a terrorist—his adoption of a satellite phone to run cells on several continents, and his use of fax machines and satellite TV networks to defeat the censors of Arab authoritarians—arose from his upbringing in a family that embodied the opportunities and the stresses of modernization in Saudi Arabia.. He was an obscurantist who understood globalization.

4 September
Saudi state media companies to start moving from Dubai to Riyadh
By Aziz Yaakoubi
(Reuters) Dubai-based Saudi state-owned media companies will start moving staff this month to the capital Riyadh, sources said, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presses ahead with plans to remould the kingdom as a regional business hub.
The move follows a Saudi government decision earlier this year to stop giving state contracts to companies and commercial institutions that base their Middle East headquarters in any other country in the region.
State-owned Al-Arabiya and Al Hadath TV channels informed their employees this week about plans to start broadcasting 12 hours a day from Riyadh by next January, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
MBC, Arabiya and Hadath are based in Dubai Media City, the United Arab Emirates’ media hub that hosts hundreds of media companies and most of their Middle East headquarters. Asharq News is based in Riyadh but has a large hub in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

3 September
George Will: Ending secrecy over the Saudis and 9/11? It’s about time.
The 9/11 Commission’s interestingly worded 2004 report found no evidence that the Saudi government “as an institution” or that “senior” Saudi officials “individually” funded the hijackers, but noted “the likelihood” that “charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda.” Since 2004, FBI investigations have found more.
Information tending to substantiate Americans’ suspicions that Saudi Arabia has more 9/11 blood on its hands than is already known will not subtract measurably from Americans’ regard for today’s Saudi regime, which the CIA says directed, from the highest levels, the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The regime’s audacity was perhaps encouraged by the U.S. government’s pattern of protecting the regime with secrecy.
Biden, given more than 2,000 reasons to do so, seems to have opted for transparency. Or — skepticism is always in order — at least a promise to revisit a campaign promise. So, if he follows through on his promise, we are going to learn, among other things, this: National security is not diminished by information that diminishes Saudi Arabia’s good name, which it has already forfeited.

28 July
A Saudi official’s harrowing account of torture reveals the regime’s brutality
by David Ignatius
(WaPo) In documents filed in a Canadian court, the former Saudi official describes the extensive torture he says he suffered at the hands of operatives of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
As set out in the court papers, Almuzaini was first seized in Dubai on Sept. 26, 2017, by United Arab Emirates security officials and sent to the kingdom; he vanished on Aug. 24, 2020, after visiting a senior Saudi state security official, and has not been seen since.
But his words resonate across time.
Held captive by Saudi agents, Salem Almuzaini, once an official of the regime, was beaten repeatedly on the soles of his feet, his back and his genitals, according to a harrowing account of his torture and captivity filed in a Canadian court. He says he was whipped, starved, battered with iron bars and electrocuted; he also describes being ordered to crawl on all fours and bark like a dog. Accompanying his report are graphic photos of Almuzaini’s extensive scars from injuries he said were inflicted by operatives of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

16 July
Saudi-UAE: Despite turmoil geopolitical goals remain steadfast
The cause of the current rift between the Gulf heavyweights is more profound than mere economics, analysts say
(Al Jazeera) The Middle East’s most meaningful alliance between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is currently being tested by economic aspirations, however, both sides continue to share geopolitical agendas.
The relationship between UAE and Saudi Arabia is based not merely on the friendship of their respective rulers, but also on a long-lasting alliance that has survived various crises over the years. But one constant theme has always remained omnipresent.
In recent years, however, the partnership has gradually turned into a competition. The recent oil dispute is just a final symptom of the fracture, said [Yasmina Abouzzohour, visiting fellow at Brookings Institution].
“Riyadh had decided in February of this year to only award state contracts to companies based in the kingdom. This challenged Dubai’s role as the region’s financial hub.”
Disagreements over economic aspirations are likely to continue to play a pivotal role in their respective agendas, said Abouzzohour.

15 July
Bloomberg Politics: Gone are the partitions that separated women and men in restaurants and lines at fast food chains. Music, once banned in public, can be heard on the streets, blaring from eateries and parties. Mosque loudspeakers can now only broadcast the call to prayer and not the full service, except on Fridays and Eid.
This all comes as the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chips away at the power of the religious establishment that had long controlled every aspect of social and legal life in the birthplace of Islam.
The ascetic Wahhabi doctrine that had underpinned his family’s rule, as well as hardline edicts, runs counter to the crown prince’s five-year-old plan to diversify the economy and open up the country for tourists and investments. The prince is introducing the changes slowly and without a stated plan, in contrast to his vision for the economy which comes with public goals and deadlines.
In the quest to tighten his grip on power, Prince Mohammed has muzzled critical voices, and the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on his watch drew international condemnation.
The shift from theocracy to autocracy is dividing Saudis. Some wonder if they’re still living in a Muslim state, while others welcome what they see as much-needed changes to open up the country.
The strategy carries risks for the prince if his reforms are seen to challenge Saudi Arabia’s special status in the Muslim world as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest sites, at a time when regional rival, Iran, has just elected a hardline president.
The question now, in a tightly controlled nation, is whether the religious hardliners regain their clout. — Donna Abu-Nasr

6 July
Airline body IATA to open Saudi office but denies it will be regional HQ
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that global airlines industry body IATA had agreed to open a regional headquarters in Riyadh but the industry’s main trade association denied it would be a regional base in the latest evidence of sensitivities over the status of foreign business representation in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is putting pressure on companies to move their regional offices to the kingdom, warning that from 2024 it would not award state contracts to those with regional headquarters elsewhere.
The move is one of many recent economic and social reforms in an effort to diversify the economy away from its oil dependence.
Saudi Arabia last week announced a transportation and logistics drive aimed at making the kingdom the fifth-biggest air transit hub.
People familiar with the matter said a planned new airline would target international transit passenger traffic, going head-to-head with Gulf giants Emirates and Qatar Airways and opening up a new front in regional competition. read more

29 March
Analysis: With stick and carrot, Saudi starts winning over firms in regional race
(Reuters) A Saudi ultimatum in mid-February has prompted some firms to rethink their strategy: from 2024, companies seeking state contracts in the Middle East’s biggest economy must have offices in the kingdom.
But, alongside this blunt approach, the government has launched sweeping economic and social reforms to attract investors, aiming to make the kingdom an easier place to live and work in and cutting the red tape that long deterred them.
Dubai, a global city with one of the world’s busiest airports – at least in pre-pandemic times – alongside fancy hotels and restaurants, may still rule as the region’s business centre.
But Saudi Arabia is playing an aggressive game of catch up. The state news agency SPA said in early February that 24 international firms had signed agreements to establish main regional offices in Riyadh, the capital of the world’s biggest oil exporter.

15 March
Saudi Arabia arrests hundreds in its latest corruption crackdown
At least 241 people, including employees from several ministries, arrested after raids carried out last month.
(Al Jazeera) According to [the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority] Nazaha, bank employees a the Saudi Central Bank were reportedly taking bribes from an organised group of expats and businessmen to accept deposits from unknown sources and then transfer the money out of the country.
Saudi Arabia Must Prepare For More Attacks On Its Oil Industry
(Oil Price) The most obvious and immediate benefit for major oil producer Iran of a successful attack against Saudi oil facilities is that oil prices rise, with the size of the increase and its duration dependent on how much damage is done to Saudi oil infrastructure in any such attack. The added advantage for Iran after the attacks on 14 September 2019 is that given the nonsensical comments from senior Saudis about how much damage had been done to the Kingdom’s oil infrastructure during those attacks and how long it would take to repair, seasoned oil traders now know that they should not believe a word that the Saudis say regarding such matters.

8 March
Saudi Arabia is persecuting a peaceful blogger — again. Silence could be disastrous.
Opinion by Irwin Cotler and Brandon Silver
(WaPo) In the wake of the Biden administration’s release of a damning intelligence report directly linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the brutal murder and dismemberment of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi authorities are intensifying their persecution of political prisoners with impunity. One of those prisoners is journalist and blogger Raif Badawi.
As the Biden administration seeks to expand regional peace agreements and curtail the kingdom’s human rights abuses, Badawi’s just case and cause present an opportunity to meaningfully advance both goals. Advocating on his behalf should be a matter of principle and policy for President Biden.

On the other hand, continued indifference or indulgence of Badawi’s brutal treatment risks a ripple effect. It was the inaction of the international community in response to Saudi Arabia’s bullying of Canada that first paved the path to Khashoggi’s murder. In 2018, when Canada spoke out on behalf of Badawi and his sister Samar Badawi, a leader of the women’s rights movement who has also been imprisoned, the crown prince erupted in fury, punitively pursuing sanctions and publicly issuing threats. When Canada appealed to our democratic allies for solidarity, it was met with silence. The muted response to the kingdom’s malign activities was surely received with relief in Riyadh — and likely viewed as license to continue without consequence. Khashoggi was killed shortly thereafter.

3 March
Why repressive Saudi Arabia remains a US ally
By Jeffrey Fields, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Relations, USC
(The Conversation) Like his predecessors, Biden is grappling with the reality that Saudi Arabia is needed to achieve certain U.S. objectives in the Middle East.
This is a change from Biden’s criticism of Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail. He said his administration would turn this repressive kingdom – a longtime U.S. ally – into a global “pariah.”
The Khashoggi affair highlights a persistent oddity in American foreign policy, one I observed in many years working at the State Department and Department of Defense: selective morality in dealing with repressive regimes.
… Saudi Arabia ranks just above North Korea on political rights, civil liberties and other measures of freedom, according to the democracy watchdog Freedom House. The same report ranks both Iran and China ahead of the Saudis.
But its wealth, strategic Middle East location and petroleum exports keep the Saudis as a vital U.S. ally. President Obama visited Saudi Arabia more than any other American president – four times in eight years – to discuss everything from Iran to oil production.

1 March
Inside the Biden team’s deliberations over punishing the Saudi crown prince
(WaPo) … the problem of what sanctions could be placed on Mohammed remained. Psaki drew criticism for telling reporters that the United States does not sanction the heads of government with whom it has diplomatic relations.
Sanctioning the leader of another country was rarely done, and never with the leader of a national security partner. Although the crown prince does not have a U.S. visa, and U.S. officials indicated he would not be getting one any time soon, any such decision would be infinitely more problematic once he became king, which he is virtually certain to be with the passing of his 85-year-old father.
And the crown prince was unique. Banning the grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia would mean declaring what a senior administration official called a “hostile” relationship with the kingdom, the titular protector of the holiest sites in the Muslim world.
Even if that were tolerable, in a dangerous region where the United States seeks Saudi leadership and cooperation, untangling Mohammed’s assets for freezing from those of the kingdom was seen as virtually impossible.

26-27 February
Richard Haass: A Realist Reset for US-Saudi Relations
President Joe Biden’s administration appears determined to separate America’s relationship with the Kingdom from the relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But this separation will likely prove impossible to sustain.
(Project Syndicate) The US is not in a position to prevent his ascension to the throne when his father dies. Any attempt to do so would almost certainly fail, in the process triggering a nationalist backlash, causing domestic instability, or both. And the fact is that the US has many reasons to maintain a working relationship with an individual who will likely lead for decades a country that is critical to setting world energy prices, containing Iran, frustrating terrorism, and, if it elects to do so, promoting Middle East peace.
… The promise of meetings with Biden administration officials should be traded for a firm commitment that he will never again target a political opponent in this way and that he will release imprisoned human rights advocates.Bringing the Saudis into diplomacy might preserve the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations with Israel only when Israel agreed not to annex occupied Palestinian territory for at least three years. MBS reportedly is ready to build bridges to Israel, but his father is not, and much of the Saudi population might resist. Even an Israeli government committed to expanding Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories might find it difficult to resist curbing them in exchange for peace and diplomatic ties with the Kingdom.
US intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing
(The Hill) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, according to a declassified report released by the Biden administration on Friday.
The report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto leader, “approved an operation … to capture or kill” Khashoggi.
“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report said.
President Biden Lets a Saudi Murderer Walk
The crown prince killed my friend Jamal Khashoggi, and we do next to nothing.
By Nicholas Kristof
Instead of imposing sanctions on M.B.S., Biden appears ready to let the murderer walk. The weak message to other thuggish dictators considering such a murder is: Please don’t do it, but we’ll still work with you if we have to. The message to Saudi Arabia is: Go ahead and elevate M.B.S. to be the country’s next king if you must.
All this is a betrayal of my friend Jamal Khashoggi and of his values and ours. But even through the lens of realpolitik it’s a missed opportunity to help Saudi Arabia understand that its own interest lies in finding a new crown prince who isn’t reckless and doesn’t kill and dismember journalists.
Crushing Dissent: The Saudi Kill Team Behind Khashoggi’s Death
(NYT) Seven Saudis involved in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi belonged to an elite unit charged with protecting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a declassified report on the assassination released on Friday. The New York Times has linked the group to a brutal campaign to crush dissent inside the kingdom and abroad, citing interviews with American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign..

24 January
Crown prince announces new 5-year strategy for Kingdom’s economy
(Arab News) The Public Investment Fund (PIF) will pump at least $40 billion a year into the local economy, double its assets to $1.07 trillion, contribute U$320 billion to non-oil GDP and create 1.8 million jobs by 2025, said the crown prince, the fund’s chairman.
The 2021-2025 strategy will focus on launching new sectors, empowering the private sector, developing the PIF’s portfolio, achieving effective long-term investments, supporting the localization of sectors and building strategic economic partnerships.
The Biden administration’s Saudi problem
(WaPo) As the Biden administration seeks a better pathway in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, one obstacle is the case of two young Saudis imprisoned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to pressure their father, a former top Saudi intelligence official.
Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has been trying to force the former intelligence official, Saad Aljabri, to return to the kingdom from Toronto, where he has been living in exile. Two of his children, Omar and Sarah Aljabri, 22 and 20, were arrested and imprisoned last March. Saad Aljabri’s eldest son Khalid, a cardiologist who lives with his father in exile, said they are being used as “political hostages” to secure the former official’s return.
The sensitive case now falls to the Biden administration, which wants to maintain the U.S. security partnership with Saudi Arabia but also seeks a “reassessment” that puts greater emphasis on human rights issues.
One reason U.S. officials, through two administrations, have been so concerned about the case is that Saad Aljabri was a key partner for the CIA in its counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda. A July 2020 letter to Trump from a bipartisan group of four senators noted that Aljabri “has been credited by former CIA officials for saving thousands of American lives by discovering and preventing terrorist plots.”

7 January
Trump and Kushner are claiming credit for solving a conflict they helped inflame
Mohamad Bazzi, journalism professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday
(WaPo Opinion) On Tuesday, Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law, attended a summit meeting in Saudi Arabia with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The leaders signed an agreement to restore full diplomatic relations with Qatar and end a three-year blockade, a rift that had divided the Arab world and pit U.S. allies against one another.
Kushner was taking a victory lap, having negotiated for months to help resolve the conflict. But the photo-op obscured a simple fact: Kushner and Trump played a major role in instigating the 2017 crisis that led to the intra-Arab rift and Qatar’s regional isolation.
Soon after the Trump administration took office, Kushner cultivated a friendship with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, who was then the deputy crown prince but had ambitions of securing de facto control of the kingdom. The two “young princes,” both in their 30s, bonded over their desire to remake the Middle East and prove themselves on the world stage. Trump and Kushner, both used to personality-driven business deals, offered their unwavering support to MBS for the promise of massive weapons contracts, other investments in the United States and stable oil prices.

4 January
Saudi Arabia set to end three-year feud by reopening borders with Qatar
Land border has been closed since mid-2017 after Qatar was accused of supporting Islamist groups
(The Guardian) Qatar’s only land border has been mostly closed since mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a blockade against the tiny Gulf state, accusing it of supporting Islamist groups in the region and of having warm ties with Iran. Kuwait has been mediating between Qatar and the four Arab states.

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