Middle East & Arab World: Saudi Arabia 2021-

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Saudi Arabia

6-7 December
Saudi’s MBS rolls out the red carpet for China’s Xi, in a not too subtle message to Biden
(CNN) When Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia received him with the pomp and circumstance normally reserved for the kingdom’s most strategic ally, the United States.
Four fighter jets from the Royal Saudi Air Force escorted Xi’s plane after it entered the country’s airspace. It was then escorted to land by six aerobatic jets dragging green smoke trails, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
Saudi state TV showed Xi walking down the steps of his presidential aircraft at King Khalid International Airport, where he was received by Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, governor of the Riyadh region, and Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, the Saudi foreign minister.
The multiple-day visit will include two conferences that will gather leaders from across the Arab world. Dozens of trade, economic and military agreements – to the tune of tens of billions of dollars – will be signed
China’s Xi on ‘epoch-making’ visit to Saudi as Riyadh chafes at U.S. censure
(Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping began a visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday that Beijing said marked its biggest diplomatic initiative in the Arab world, as Riyadh expands global alliances beyond a longstanding partnership with the West.
The meeting between the global economic powerhouse and Gulf energy giant comes as Saudi ties with Washington are strained by U.S. criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record and Saudi support for oil output curbs before the November midterm elections.

30 November
Mohammed bin Salman accused of attempt to ‘manipulate’ US court system
Lawyer says Saudi crown prince took actions to ‘secure impunity’ from civil case brought by fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi
A lawyer for Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, has accused Mohammed bin Salman of engaging in an unprecedented and blatant attempt to “manipulate” the US court system in order to “secure impunity” after allegedly ordering the 2018 murder of the journalist.
In a blistering 10-page legal filing, lawyer Keith Harper, who represents Cengiz and the pro-democracy group Dawn in a US civil case against the Saudi crown prince, urged Judge John Bates to reject a controversial suggestion by the Biden administration that Prince Mohammed be granted sovereign immunity in the case.
21 November Biden’s decision to grant Saudi crown prince immunity is a profound mistake
Mohamad Bazzi
After being repeatedly humiliated by Prince Mohammed, Biden continues to appease an autocrat who disdains him

29 November
‘The Godfather, Saudi-style’: inside the palace coup that brought MBS to power (long read)
Not long ago, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, was all set to assume power. But his ambitious young cousin had a ruthless plan to seize control for himself
by Anuj Chopra

22 November
Saudi execution spree continues as fears rise for Jordanian on death row
David Davis asks foreign secretary and Saudi ambassador to intervene in reprieve for Hussein Abo al-Kheir. […], who the UN says should be released immediately, [and] has been moved to a death row cell.
(The Guardian) Saudi Arabia on Tuesday executed two more Saudi citizens for drug offences, taking the total number of executions in the past fortnight to 17.
The kingdom had previously given a commitment it would not impose the death penalty for drug offences, but has suddenly gone back on its word, executing seven Saudi and 10 foreign nationals. Saudi Arabia has already executed 130 people this year.
… The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, told media in previous interviews: “Regarding the death penalty we are getting rid of it in its entirety,” adding this would be except in circumstances where “someone has killed another person or threatens the lives of many people”.
Taha al-Hajji, a former capital defence lawyer who now works at the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, said: “There is no logical explanation for its return to executions.
“But I think the pause coincided with the global criticism of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The executions returned after the media and human rights campaigns slowed down.”

18 November
US moves to shield Saudi crown prince in journalist killing
(AP) — The Biden administration says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s high office should shield him from a lawsuit over his role in the killing of a U.S.-based journalist, making a turnaround from Joe Biden’s passionate campaign trail denunciations of the prince over the brutal slaying.
The U.S. government’s finding of immunity for the Prince Mohammed, sometimes known as MBS, is non-binding, and a judge will ultimately decide whether to grant immunity. But it angered rights activists and risked blowback from Democratic lawmakers. The U.S move came as Saudi Arabia has stepped up imprisonment and other retaliation against peaceful critics at home and abroad and has cut oil production, a move seen as undercutting efforts by the U.S. and its allies to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine.

2 November
Saudis in US targeted as kingdom cracks down on dissent
Ellen Knickmeyer
(AP) Over the last five years, Saudi surveillance, intimidation and pursuit of Saudis on U.S. soil have intensified as the kingdom steps up repression under its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the FBI, rights groups and two years of interviews with Saudis living abroad. Some of those Saudis said FBI agents advised them not to go home.
Saudi Arabia’s actions under Prince Mohammed stand out for their high-tech intensity, orchestration and, often, ferocity, and for coming from a strategic partner.
… All three sentences were imposed weeks after President Joe Biden set aside his past condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record to travel to the kingdom, despite criticism from lawmakers, rights groups and Saudi exiles.
It was a moment when the U.S. urgently needed the kingdom to keep up oil production. But Biden has ended up with no more oil — the Saudis and OPEC have cut production — or any improvement in human rights.
Saudi rights advocates say the imprisonments validate their pre-trip warnings: Biden’s attempts to soothe the crown prince have only emboldened him.
Freedom House, a research and advocacy group, says Saudi Arabia has targeted critics in 14 countries, including targeting coordinated and run from the United States. The aim is to spy on Saudis and intimidate them, or compel them to return to the kingdom, the group says.

1-2 November
Saudis tell US that Iran may attack the kingdom: Officials
United States says threats are concerning, and that it will defend Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies.
U.S. concerned about Iranian threats to Saudi Arabia
(Reuters) – The United States is concerned about threats from Iran against Saudi Arabia and will not hesitate to respond if necessary, a White House spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, on Oct. 20 issued what he described as a warning to Saudi leaders not to rely on Israel and mentioned their “glass palaces”.
Riyadh had blessed U.S.-brokered pacts under which two of its Gulf allies forged ties with Israel in 2020 in a move that created a new regional anti-Iran axis, but also launched direct talks with Tehran last year in a bid to contain tensions amid Gulf uncertainty over U.S. commitment to the region.
Saudi Arabia Reiterates Commitment To China, Regardless Of U.S. Concerns
Saudi Arabia last week reiterated its commitment to China as its “most reliable partner and supplier of crude oil,”.
MbS seemingly now sees the U.S. as a partner just for its security considerations.
Saudi Arabia’s strategic pivot effectively marks the end of the 1945 core agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that defined their relationship up until extremely recently.

18 October
Retired U.S. generals, admirals take top jobs with Saudi crown prince
More than 500 retired U.S. military personnel — including scores of generals and admirals — have taken lucrative jobs since 2015 working for foreign governments, mostly in countries known for human rights abuses and political repression, according to a Washington Post investigation.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, 15 retired U.S. generals and admirals have worked as paid consultants for the Defense Ministry since 2016. The ministry is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, who U.S. intelligence agencies say approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, as part of a brutal crackdown on dissent.
Saudi Arabia’s paid advisers have included retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a national security adviser to President Barack Obama, and retired Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who led the National Security Agency under Obama and President George W. Bush, according to documents obtained by The Post under Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.

6-14 October
Saudi Arabia pushed other OPEC nations into oil cut, White House claims
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia pushed other OPEC+ nations into an output cut last week, the White House claimed on Thursday, part of an escalating war of words between the two countries.
“More than one” OPEC member disagreed with Saudi Arabia’s push to cut production and felt coerced into the vote, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. He said he was not going to identify the members to let them speak for themselves.
U.S.-Saudi oil feud escalates
(The Hill) Kirby said other OPEC+ nations have communicated to the U.S. privately that they disagree with the Saudi decision “but felt coerced to support” it. He said those OPEC+ members that expressed their concerns to the U.S. can speak for themselves but that “there was more than one OPEC member” that did.
Democrats suggest shifting weapons from Saudi Arabia to Ukraine
Democrats call for suspension of transfer of Patriot missiles in wake of ‘turning point’ in relationship with Saudis
Saudi Arabia Swings Toward Russia
Edoardo Campanella
In the short term, Western countries seeking to counter the Kingdom’s swing-producer power could release additional strategic reserves and increase shale oil production. In the medium term, however, the West is left with little choice but to accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels.
(Project Syndicate) While the OPEC+ decision threatens to place additional strain on the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the production target is mostly illusory. The new agreement sets the cartel’s November output at around 42 million barrels per day, but it already produces about 39 million barrels per day – 4.5 million below the official October target – as 15 of the group’s 23 members struggle to meet their quotas. The discrepancy between targeted and actual production has widened over the last few months. Most countries – apart from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – lack spare capacity, owing to years of underinvestment. This is particularly true of Nigeria and Angola. Moreover, Western sanctions’ effect on Russian exports has only been partly attenuated by diverting deliveries from Europe to Asia.
Biden to Re-evaluate Relationship With Saudi Arabia After Oil Production Cut
Angered by the kingdom’s decision to team up with Russia to slash petroleum output, the president signaled openness to retaliatory measures, including a halt to arms sales and a new antitrust measure.
(NYT) Mr. Biden’s willingness to consider retaliatory measures represents a significant shift for a president who had sought to improve relations with Saudi Arabia in recent months and reflected deep anger in the White House about the decision last week by OPEC Plus, which is led by the Saudis, to cut oil production by up to two million barrels a day.
Inside the Saudi calculus on oil cuts—and the US response
By Jonathan Panikoff
(Atlanticist) Riyadh’s support of the cuts reflects a conscious decision to actively support Moscow at a time when the world knows the United States is working to challenge Russia’s ability to successfully wage war in Ukraine, including by limiting capital available to Moscow from oil sales. Inevitably, Riyadh will claim the cuts are in the best interest of Saudi Arabia, and that may be true. In the short term, a coming global recession might portend greater supply and risk pushing oil prices down further. In the long term, as global energy transitions away from fossil fuels accelerate, Riyadh might think that it only has so many years left of high oil prices to glean the revenue needed to reform its economy.
But even if that is Riyadh’s thinking, its behavior indicates a belief that it has nothing to lose on national security by aligning with Russia at this time. It’s true that if the United States makes a hasty and unwise decision to immediately withdraw its security umbrella from Saudi Arabia, Washington risks seeing Beijing fill that gap. On the other hand, Beijing has long been hesitant to play the role of security guarantor, and China cannot completely fill the hardware gap that would exist if the United States left—most prominently for missile defense, a field in which China is still developing its capabilities.
Experts react: How the OPEC+ oil-production cuts will shake up geopolitics and energy security
On Wednesday, the oil-producing cartel OPEC+, a group that includes Persian Gulf countries and Russia, agreed to reduce production by two million barrels per day in order to keep prices high amid concerns about a recession. The news sparked a strong backlash from the United States—particularly after US President Joe Biden had visited Saudi Arabia this summer in an effort to repair ties—

27 September
Mohammed bin Salman named prime minister ahead of Khashoggi lawsuit
New role likely to grant prince sovereign immunity in case concerning journalist murdered in Saudi Arabian embassy
(The Guardian) Mohammed bin Salman has been named prime minister of Saudi Arabia in a move that experts said would probably shield the crown prince from a potentially damaging lawsuit in the US in connection to his alleged role in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that King Salman was making an exception to Saudi law and naming his son as prime minister, formally ceding the dual title of king and prime minister he had personally held until now.
The development is not likely to change the balance of power in Saudi Arabia, where the 37-year-old prince is already seen as the de facto ruler of the kingdom and heir to the throne.

6 September
Saudi Arabia And Iran Held Secret Meetings To Bolster Collaboration
(Yahoo! news) Given the centuries-long hatred between regional rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, last week’s comments by Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, that there have been five rounds of meetings between high-level personnel from Tehran and Riyadh in recent months has drawn surprisingly little attention. This is all the more surprising, given that Raisi then cited Iraq – which apparently played the role of mediator between the two sides – as praising: “The initiatives offered, and measures taken by Iraq to improve cooperation among regional countries free from foreign meddling [will] play an effective role in bolstering regional collaboration.” In sum then, a rogue state, and the former number one ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, have been chatting away for months, hosted by a country which, following the U.S.’s ‘end of combat mission’ last year, appears to be drifting into civil war; so, what is going on precisely and where does it lead?
At the end of April 2021, [Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS)] stated very publicly that he seeks: “A good and special relationship with Iran…We do not want Iran’s situation to be difficult; on the contrary, we want Iran to grow… and to push the region and the world towards prosperity.” This comment…followed the first in what has now transpired to be four further meetings in Baghdad between senior figures from the Iranian and Saudi regimes, the first of which was personally brokered by then-Iraq Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The existence of these talks was subsequently confirmed by an Iraqi government official, although neither Riyadh nor Tehran formally acknowledged them at the time.
The positive comments towards Iran from MbS came at around the same time that Saudi Arabia’s flagship oil and gas company, Aramco, let it be known that it was in the process of broadening and deepening its relationship with Beijing.
October 2021: Will Saudi Arabia Ditch The U.S. For Russia And China?

12 July
How to rescue and rebuild the US-Saudi relationship
By Jonathan Panikoff
(New Atlanticist) … The United States cannot ensure its economic and national security as successfully without Saudi Arabia as a key ally. In the coming years, the country will remain at the center of a variety of interests vital to the United States, including maritime security in the Red Sea and Arab Gulf, counterterrorism, and addressing threats from Iran and its regional proxies. And while the United States does not depend on oil from the Middle East, at least some of its European and East Asian allies will almost certainly be more reliant on it as they move away from Russia’s in the coming years.
All other pressing US security interests aside, the administration’s strategic and adversarial global competition with Beijing is reason enough to reset relations with Riyadh: China’s growing economic, diplomatic, and military efforts in the Middle East mean Washington needs to push back against China there as well. While it is unlikely to halt the expansion of economic and some military ties between Riyadh and Beijing, permanently downgrading the US-Saudi relationship would leave China to dominate the Gulf’s economic and security spheres—something that is clearly not in US interests.

8 July
Chinese, Saudi Arabian FMs vow to deepen comprehensive strategic partnership
(CGTN) China will continue to firmly support Saudi Arabia in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and stability, and oppose any acts of interference in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday.
He made the remarks when meeting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) foreign ministers’ meeting held in Bali, Indonesia.
China and Saudi Arabia have, as always, firmly supported each other over issues concerning their core interests, which demonstrated the important value of the China-Saudi Arabia comprehensive strategic partnership, he said.
For his part, Faisal said Saudi Arabia remains firmly committed to the one-China policy and has always stood against any foreign interference in China’s internal affairs, adding that Saudi Arabia is ready to deepen the all-dimensional cooperation with China.

3 July
Judge asks U.S. if Saudi crown prince should be immune from suit
The Biden administration has until Aug. 1 to say whether it believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be immune from a civil lawsuit filed against him in the United States by Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was murdered in 2018.
The federal judge’s order comes just before President Biden is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia later this month for the first time in his presidency, a trip that has made even some Democrats uneasy and that has prompted accusations of Biden flip-flopping on his promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” after Khashoggi’s murder.

12-14 June
Biden visit to Saudi Arabia reverses his vow to make it a ‘pariah’
Biden will travel to the Middle East next month, stopping in Israel and the West Bank and meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The trip comes as the administration is trying to boost global oil production and advance Arab-Israeli peace.
Biden Is Right About Saudi Arabia
The president is sacrificing his values in the interests of something we haven’t seen much of in the past two decades: realism.
By Andrew Exum
(The Atlantic) Biden’s planned visit to the kingdom represents a determination to both rationalize the amount of attention we pay to the region and formulate a foreign policy that works on behalf of the American middle class. But it is not going to make anyone happy in the near term, and it is going to cost him precious political capital with his own party.
In the two decades since the September 11 attacks, elite opinion in the United States regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has finally caught up to where popular opinion has been headed for some time. American elites—to include elected and appointed officials—have come to resent the historically close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. This resentment is bipartisan, but is most keenly felt within the more progressive ranks of the president’s party.
The growing ties between Israel and the Gulf States have created a strong counterweight to malign Iranian influence in the region. Should Israel enjoy closer political, military, and even commercial relations with the Gulf, future American presidents could assume more risk regarding the U.S. commitment to the region. Democrats have a lot to criticize from the Trump years, yet the Abraham Accords shouldn’t be one of those things. But I fear the normalization process won’t go any further without Saudi Arabia on board.

3 June
Biden’s flip-flop on Saudi Arabia
Analysis by Aaron Blake
(WaPo) …if this were truly all about peace, that would be an easier argument to make for engaging with a “pariah” state. But early indications are that this is likely to be plenty geared toward domestic economic and political considerations.
And if that is indeed a big part of the aim, it would be merely the latest example of the Saudis capitalizing on their leverage and usefulness to escape accountability — despite high-minded promises by our presidents and would-be presidents.

7 April
Yemen’s president steps aside amid efforts to end war
(AP) — Yemen’s exiled president stepped aside and transferred his powers to a presidential council Thursday, as international and regional efforts to end the country’s long-running civil war gained momentum with a two-month truce.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, major players in the war, appear to have had a role in President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s decision, quickly welcoming it with a pledge of $3 billion in aid. The head of the new council has close ties to Riyadh.

Turkey to move trial of Khashoggi suspects to Saudi Arabia
(AP) — A Turkish court decided Thursday to transfer the trial of 26 Saudis accused in the gruesome killing of Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, raising fears that those responsible for the death of the Washington Post columnist won’t be brought to justice for a crime that drew international outrage.
Last week, the prosecutor in the case recommended its transfer to the kingdom, arguing that the trial in Turkey would remain inconclusive. Turkey’s justice minister supported the recommendation, adding that the trial in Turkey would resume if the Istanbul court is not satisfied with the outcome in Saudi Arabia.
It was not clear if the kingdom, which has already put some of the defendants on trial behind closed doors, would open a new trial, and there was no immediate reaction from Riyadh to the decision. … the court halted the trial in line with the Justice Ministry’s “positive opinion,” DHA reported. It also decided to lift arrest warrants issued against the defendants and gave the sides seven days to lodge any opposition.
Saudi Arabia had rejected Turkey’s requests to extradite the defendants, who included two former aides of the prince.

1 April
UN says Yemen’s warring parties agree to 2-month truce
(AP) — Yemen’s warring sides have accepted a two-month truce, starting with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the U.N. envoy to Yemen said Friday.
The agreement came after the Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling the Houthis in Yemen since 2015, began observing a unilateral cease-fire on Wednesday — an offer that was rejected by the rebels. Saudi Arabia had proposed the unilateral cease-fire as part of talks it hosted aiming to resolve the war in Yemen. But the Houthis did not attend the talks because they were not held on neutral territory.

12 March
Saudi Arabia executes 81 men in 24 hours
Officials say those executed were convicted of charges including terrorism and holding ‘deviant beliefs’
The men included 37 Saudi nationals who were found guilty in a single case for attempting to assassinate security officers and targeting police stations and convoys, the report added.
[Saudi Arabia] has faced strong criticism of its restrictive laws on political and religious expression, and the implementation of the death penalty, including for defendants arrested when they were minors.

6 March
Opinion: The Atlantic’s elevation of MBS is an insult to journalism
By Karen Attiah
(WaPo) Washington media has a long history of cooking up overbaked puff pieces on murderous autocrats — especially when those autocrats are key U.S. allies. The Atlantic’s April cover story, “Absolute Power,” about MBS — which was written by Graeme Wood and included interviews conducted along with the magazine’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg — is part of this tradition, a case study in everything that is wrong with access journalism and the immoral fixation on powerful, brutal men.
… Most sickeningly, the Atlantic gave MBS a platform to not only continue his absurd denials of having anything to do with Jamal’s murder (even though it was carried out by figures in his close circle and the CIA concluded he gave the order to capture or kill), but also to present himself as the real victim. “The Khashoggi incident was the worst thing ever to happen to me,” the magazine reported that MBS has told people close to him. The murder “hurt me and it hurt Saudi Arabia, from a feelings perspective.”

23-26 February
Quebec family of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi hope he will soon be released
(CBC) Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who has served as international legal council to Badawi’s family, said there are still legal hurdles that Saudi authorities would need to drop, in order for the family to bring Badawi to Canada.
“They would need to authorize that the other restrictions that were placed at the initial sentencing are no longer enforced,” he said. Those restrictions include the fine [of more than $340,000], and a 10-year travel ban.
Renewed hope for jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi’s release
(Deutsche Welle) As a possible release date approaches, the wife of the high profile Saudi Arabian writer argues that the issues he was sent to jail for highlighting 10 years ago are no longer such a taboo in the Gulf kingdom.
“Raif has never criticized the current government and was imprisoned for advocating the very same reforms that the current government has implemented,” Brandon Silver, an international human rights lawyer and member of Badawi’s legal team, pointed out.
“We trust that Saudi Arabia will honor the decisions of its own legal system,” argued Silver, who also serves as director of policy and projects at the Montreal, Canada-based Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. “It is not only the right thing to do, according to Saudi law and custom, but the smart thing to do, in order to shift international opinion.”

11 February
Cirque du Soleil walking an ethical tightrope in Saudi Arabia
Cirque du Soleil is defending its decision to deepen its business ties with Saudi Arabia despite concern about that country’s human-rights record and the fate of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi – whose family lives in Quebec.
The Montreal-based entertainment company recently signed an agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Culture to bring more of its shows to the kingdom, including The Illusionist, Now You See Me, Paw Patrol Live – Race to Rescue, Trolls Live! and Blue Man Group World Tour.
28 January
New agreement between Saudi Ministry of Culture and Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group opens door for major new productions in the Kingdom
Cirque du Soleil set to bring some of its top shows and award-winning performances to Saudi Arabia.
The agreement with Cirque du Soleil will further the cultural ecosystem as Saudi Arabia’s performing arts sector expands.
Agreement will see the two parties develop a plan to establish a regional Cirque du Soleil training academy and office.

2021

16 December
Saudi Arabia Wants Its Capital to Be Somewhere You’d Want to Live
(Bloomberg CityLab) A massive project is underway to turn an air base in Saudi Arabia’s desert capital into a public green space four times the size of New York’s Central Park. It’s one part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grand vision to transform Riyadh — one of the world’s most sprawling, car-dependent and water-poor cities — into a paragon of sustainability, in response to rising temperatures.
Prince Mohammed also wants to overhaul the economy in a bid to double the city’s population in ten years, in part by making the city as enticing to foreigners as Dubai. Skeptics abound, of course, as Saudi Arabia struggles to ease its dependency on oil and automobiles. But some local urban planners remain hopeful the project will see at least some success with the full support of the monarchy, Bloomberg’s Vivian Nereim reports.

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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