Middle East & Arab World: Saudi Arabia August 2023-

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Middle East & Arab World: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia to Host World Economic Forum Special Meeting in April 2024
the new event is part of a landmark agreement between Saudi Arabia and the Forum.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will host a high-level World Economic Forum (WEF) Special Meeting that will focus on global cooperation, growth and energy, on 28-29 April 2024, in Riyadh.
The gathering will convene more than 700 global leaders from the public and private sector, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia and civil society to foster dialogues between countries to revive international cooperation and address current challenges to growth and development.


27 November
Revealed: Saudi Arabia’s grand plan to ‘hook’ poor countries on oil
Climate scientists say fossil fuel use needs to fall rapidly – but oil-rich kingdom is working to drive up demand
(The Guardian) Saudi Arabia is driving a huge global investment plan to create demand for its oil and gas in developing countries, an undercover investigation has revealed. Critics said the plan was designed to get countries “hooked on its harmful products”.
Little was known about the oil demand sustainability programme (ODSP) but the investigation obtained detailed information on plans to drive up the use of fossil fuel-powered cars, buses and planes in Africa and elsewhere, as rich countries increasingly switch to clean energy.
The ODSP plans to accelerate the development of supersonic air travel, which it notes uses three times more jet fuel than conventional planes, and partner with a carmaker to mass produce a cheap combustion engine vehicle. Further plans promote power ships, which use polluting heavy fuel oil or gas to provide electricity to coastal communities.
The ODSP is overseen by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and involves its biggest organisations, such as the $700bn Public Investment Fund, the world’s largest oil company, Aramco, the petrochemicals firm Sabic, and the government’s most important ministries.
In publicly available information, the programme is largely presented as “removing barriers” to energy and transport in poorer countries and “increasing sustainability”, for example by providing gas cooking stoves to replace wood burning.

13 November
Saudis in a tight spot
(GZERO media) In Riyadh, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (widely known as MBS) hosted a joint Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit, whose leaders on Saturday called for an immediate halt to Israel’s “barbaric” military assault in Gaza — stopping short of imposing political or economic sanctions on Israel.
Why the mixed message? The Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s military response in Gaza have put MBS in a bind. The king-in-waiting’s top priority remains the modernization of his kingdom and its economy. That’s the central purpose of his Vision 2030 project to diversify the Saudi economy away from its longtime dependence on oil exports for growth and revenue.
Before Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Saudi officials were working toward a historic deal to normalize relations with Israel that could help stabilize business relations in the region and boost relations with the United States, a plan MBS hopes might include some form of US security guarantee and material support for a Saudi nuclear energy project.
The war in Gaza brought that bargaining to an abrupt halt. US and European officials want the Saudis to help finance and police a post-Hamas Gaza, but MBS has no interest in assuming those costs and risks. He also considers Hamas an ally of Islamist terrorist groups who threaten the Saudi government.
Some in the Muslim world, meanwhile, want the Saudis to punish Israel and its chief backer, the US, for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza by cutting oil exports that would push prices sharply higher. But major oil customer China, grappling with a serious economic slowdown, won’t be happy if the Saudis send near-term prices soaring. The delicate dance continues.

20 October
Saudi prince slams Hamas, Israel and the West
By Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent
(BBC) A speech made by Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia this week on the current violence in the Middle East is unusually frank for a senior member of the Saudi royal family.
It has been widely acknowledged as the clearest indicator yet of the Saudi leadership’s thinking on the situation.
Prince Turki, a widely respected elder statesman in Saudi circles, has publicly condemned both Hamas and Israel for attacking civilians, following Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza. There were no heroes, he said, only victims.
Such is the groundswell of Arab anger at those Israeli air strikes that Prince Turki, who was addressing a US audience at Rice University in Houston, is a rare Arab voice of criticism of Hamas in the current climate.
The group’s acts, he said, went against Islamic injunctions not to harm civilians. The majority of those killed or kidnapped by Hamas were civilians.
Prince Turki, a careful, thoughtful ex-diplomat and spy chief, balanced his condemnation of Hamas with that of Israel, which he accused of “indiscriminate bombing of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza” and the “indiscriminate arrest of Palestinian children, women and men in the West Bank”
… Prince Turki’s US and British education at Princeton, Cambridge and Georgetown has given him an invaluable perspective on Western culture and thinking, as well as providing him with lifelong contacts amongst decision-makers in Washington and Whitehall.
He went on to become Saudi Arabia’s spy chief, running the foreign intelligence department for 24 years, with special responsibility for Afghanistan.
… Saudi Arabia’s rulers don’t like Hamas. In fact, many of the governments in the region don’t like it either. The rulers of Egypt, Jordan, UAE and Bahrain see Hamas and its revolutionary brand of so-called “political Islam” as a threat to their secular rule.
The Palestinian Authority, based on Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, was effectively chased out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007. Some of its members were thrown off the roofs of high buildings during a short-lived internecine conflict.
Although Hamas maintains a political office in Qatar its main backer is Iran, which has long been a historic rival to Saudi Arabia.

17 October
Business Leaders Confront a Dilemma Over ‘Davos in the Desert’
The Future Investment Initiative kicks off in Riyadh next week, with questions swirling over who will attend and who will drop out of the event.
(NYT) …top C.E.O.s are confronting a tricky question: whether to attend the Future Investment Initiative, the high-profile conference in Saudi Arabia known as “Davos in the desert.”
The annual event, scheduled to start Oct. 24, is meant to promote the ambitious economic agenda of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and showcase his influence on global business titans. But deciding whether to go appears anything but straightforward.
Some executives are worried about the optics, pointing to an initial statement from Riyadh about the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that appeared to blame Israel. The diplomatic normalization talks with Israel appear to be on hold, and the crown prince has reportedly begun talks with the Iranian government about preventing the conflict from metastasizing.
… Many executives plan to go, for now. Some have suggested that attending would help encourage Saudi Arabia in its modernization push. But everything could change if casualties in Gaza mount, putting pressure on Arab leaders to take a harder stance on Israel to placate their pro-Palestinian populations.
Any shift from the current Saudi approach could raise the stakes for corporate leaders, especially given how outspoken many have been in defending Israel over the past two weeks.

14 October
Saudi Arabia puts Israel deal on ice amid war, engages with Iran: Report
The Saudi crown prince and Iranian president had their first phone call on Thursday to discuss the Israel-Gaza situation.
Saudi Arabia is putting United States-backed plans to normalise ties with Israel on ice, two sources familiar with Riyadh’s thinking told Reuters news agency, signalling a rapid rethink of its foreign policy priorities as war escalates between Israel and Hamas.
The conflict has also pushed the kingdom to engage with Iran. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took his first phone call from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi as Riyadh tries to prevent a broader surge in violence across the region.

8-9 October
Fareed Zakaria: A peace deal between the Saudis and Israelis could change everything
The word that probably best describes the Biden administration’s efforts in public policy is “ambitious.” Most of its initiatives — from infrastructure funding to support for green transformation to aiding Ukraine — are big and bold.
Now, the White House is trying to put together another major effort that, if successful, will be a game changer: the Saudi-Israel normalization. There are many complications that could derail the negotiations. But if a deal comes together, the Middle East’s strongest military and most technologically advanced power (Israel) will be allied to the region’s strongest economic power (Saudi Arabia) — which is still the swing supplier of the world’s oil — under a U.S. security architecture. That would be a major win for Washington.
U.S. Continues Push for Saudi-Israel Ties Even as War With Hamas Begins
As Israel prepares an offensive in Gaza, President Biden and his aides are gauging whether Saudi officials remain interested in opening up diplomatic relations.
(NYT) Mr. Blinken added an important caveat, which was that the drive for a diplomatic deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia could not be a substitute for a two-state solution to address the needs of the Palestinians.
Hamas attack delivers major blow to Biden’s push for Saudi-Israel normalization
(Axios) President Biden’s painstaking campaign to strike a historic peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel was delivered a blow by Hamas’ surprise invasion of Israel.
The big picture: Now the White House and the world are bracing for an exponentially more powerful Israeli response — and fear prolonged, expanded fighting in the Middle East.
A ground invasion of Gaza by Israel, which could come in retaliation for Saturday’s attack, risks escalating violence in other parts of the region.
That would make it harder, if not impossible, for Biden to broker a peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Potentially historic deal to normalize Saudi-Israel relations is ‘off the table’ after this weekend’s 9/11-scale attack, top political analyst says

20 September
Saudi crown prince says in rare interview ‘every day we get closer’ to normalization with Israel
(AP) — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a rare interview with Fox News on Wednesday that negotiations over Israel means the prospects of normalized relations between both countries “get closer” every day, but that treatment of Palestinians remains a “very important” issue to be resolved.
Saudi Arabia is discussing a major agreement with the United States to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for a U.S. defense pact and aid in developing its own civilian nuclear program. The Saudis have said any deal would require major progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state, which is a hard sell for the most religious and nationalist government in Israel’s history.
“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, widely known as MbS, said on “Special Report with Bret Baier” in an interview conducted in English, adding that there had been “good negotiations” so far.
… Asked during the interview about working with someone as conservative as Netanyahu, Prince Mohammed said: “If we have a breakthrough, reaching a deal that gives the Palestinians their needs and (making) the region calm, we’ve got to work with whoever’s there.”
… Prince Mohammed was also questioned about the possibility of Iran eventually building a nuclear weapon and said “we are concerned of any country getting a nuclear weapon” and that that if Iran were to get one, Saudi Arabi will seek to do the same: “We will have to get one.” That has worried nuclear nonproliferation experts, who say the U.S. granting the kingdom the ability to enrich uranium itself could fuel a regional arms race.
Prince Mohammed has given very few interviews to Western media outlets, particularly since the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi,
… In the five years since, the kingdom has shed whatever pariah status it had as focus has shifted to major diplomatic initiatives and progress on Vision 2030, the prince’s wide-ranging plan for overhauling the economy, providing jobs for young people and weaning the kingdom off oil revenues.
27 July
Biden dispatches top adviser for talks with Saudi crown prince on normalizing relations with Israel

16 September
Saudi Arabia: Playing the long game
(Al Jazeera) In Saudi Arabia’s campaign of reform and rebranding, sports investment plays a big role. Plus, talking God and Godlessness on YouTube in the US.
Saudi Arabia’s massive spending on sport is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s strategy to diversify the petrostate’s economy and re-shape its brand.

13 September
Senate subpoenas Saudi’s $700bn sovereign wealth fund over US dealings
Chamber’s investigations committee is targeting the PIF after refusing to voluntarily comply with requests for disclosure
(The Guardian) The subpoena was announced on Wednesday at a committee hearing led by its chairman, the Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
“The Saudi Public Investment Fund cannot have it both ways: if it wants to engage with the United States commercially, it must be subject to United States law and oversight,” Blumenthal said.
Expert witnesses described the PIF as “inextricably intertwined” with the Saudi state and Prince Mohammed, who the Human Rights Watch researcher Joey Shea said wields “unilateral decision-making” over the fund, with little transparency or accountability”.
In her testimony, Shea also pointed to internal Saudi government documents, which have been submitted to a Canadian court in connection to a legal claim, which show how the crown prince’s advisers ordered Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of the fund, to transfer 20 companies that were captured as part of a so-called anti-corruption campaign directly into the fund.
The transfers in at least one case involved a deed that was stamped by the Saudi ministry of justice but never signed by the individuals who were said to have agreed the transfer to the government’s coffers, Shea said.
“There is a risk that these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process,” she added.

11 September
The platform X shouldn’t do Saudi Arabia’s dirty work
A Saudi court sentences a retired teacher to death based on tweets.
(WaPo editorial board) …  The matter of precisely what Twitter knew and when it knew it will probably be resolved in court. But one data point from the lawsuit is immediately alarming: Twitter reportedly disclosed privileged user information at Saudi Arabia’s bidding at a significantly higher rate than it accedes to demands from the United States, Britain or Canada. Many of these subpoenas came in the form of so-called emergency data requests — a mechanism hackers have lately gotten into the habit of abusing to vacuum up data from technology companies outside of their usual review processes. Apparently, these requests were often approved within hours.
Why did Twitter treat Saudi Arabia so generously? The answer, critics charge, is money. One of the largest investors in the company is Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s many princes, whose $2 billion stake was purchased through Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Co. Of course, it’s also possible that the answer is mere negligence. But for all the dysfunction of Twitter in the Dorsey days, at least back then the site had rules for it to fail to follow. All evidence suggests that X in the Elon Musk days is run mostly by its owner’s whim. And the renovated firm appears, unlike its former incarnation, to be accepting most every request from most every country to turn over user data.

9-10 September
Saudi Arabia is spending billions on sports, tech and everything in between for a post-oil world
Saudi Arabia is in the process of reinventing itself.
The Gulf kingdom is racing to transform to stay relevant well into the 21st century.
Take a closer look at the country led by a prince on a mission.
(Business Insider) After a near-century of relying on its oil riches, the country has been scrambling to set a grand plan in motion that aims to do nothing short of transform its entire economy and pave the way to the future for a nation of youths hungry for opportunity.
The plan, known as Vision 2030, is being led by the desperately ambitious 38-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the de facto leader trying to cement both his legacy and the kingdom’s place on the global stage — all by the close of the decade.
Saudi Arabia’s Bid for Soft Power Faces Some Big Hurdles
(Bloomberg) Can you buy “soft power”? Saudi Arabia is making an effort to find out the answer to that question.
The US has long stood out as a nation with enormous “hard power” in the form of its military, financial and industrial base—but also major soft power, too. American films, music and institutions of higher learning are highly valued the world over, offering an important channel of influence.
Other countries that want to build their own bank of soft power have often turned to sport. The Soviet Union, East Germany and more recently China all figured that success at the Olympics could show that their Communist-run societies could notch achievements all humanity could appreciate.
The Saudis are coming at it from a slightly different angle. They’re buying up global soccer talent for its new football league and becoming a force to be reckoned with in global golf. Will this help garner the kind of positive energy that K-Pop bands do for South Korea? Not necessarily. Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup offers a cautionary tale.
Joe Biden publicly shook hands with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit Saturday
The leaders’ latest interaction came in New Delhi, India, as they announced their respective countries’ participation in an international infrastructure and economic partnership to promote the new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. “This is a game-changing regional investment,” Biden said at the event.
7 countries, EU sign memorandum of understanding for trade corridor linking Europe, Middle East and India
The multinational railway and maritime project signed between India, the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), France, Germany, Italy and the EU, aims to connect India to the Middle East and Europe to enhance trade, provide energy resources and develop digital connectivity.
While the signatory countries did not commit to a binding financial obligation, they agreed to prepare an action plan for the establishment of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor within two months.

8 September
White House: Broad Understanding Exists on Israel-Saudi Normalization but Still Work to Do
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hails ‘broad understanding of many of the key elements’ – without going into details

27 August
Vision 2030 is Saudi Arabia’s grand plan to future-proof its oil-based economy. Experts say it’s a huge risk.
Vision 2030 is Saudi Arabia’s grand plan to transform its economy and reduce its reliance on oil.
The plan is also aimed at improving its citizens’ lives and keeping its place on the world stage.
The centerpiece of Vision 2030 is Neom, which includes a $1 trillion megacity known as The Line.
(Business Insider) A global climate crisis shifting the world away from oil, a growing population of young hopefuls desperate for opportunity, and the rising star of a king in waiting who’s ready to build a nation in his image. These factors have coalesced to create a singular mission to keep the kingdom thriving.
It’s called Vision 2030. By the end of the decade, Saudi Arabia aims to pull off the ambitious, three-pronged feat of creating an economy no longer dependent on oil, improving the lives of its nearly 40 million people, and keeping its place on the global stage.
“This isn’t just about diversifying the economy — it’s transforming society with the aim of creating an agile economy that can respond to the challenges of the modern world,” professor Simon Mabon, a senior research fellow at the Foreign Policy Center in London, said.
But time is ticking: Seven years after announcing Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has reached the midway point of its timeline, with just seven years left to the finish line. It means the kingdom is about to get more serious than ever — or risk being left in the dust.
Saudi Vision 2030

4 August
The Saudis want to be peacemakers in Ukraine
The Ukraine diplomatic sweepstakes continue with representatives from more than 40 countries set to gather this weekend in the Saudi city of Jeddah to try and forge a path towards peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Kyiv will attend the conference, but Russia wasn’t invited – though the Kremlin says it’ll watch the shindig closely.
This event comes after a similar summit was held in Copenhagen in June. So how is this one different?
First, after balking at the Danes’ invite last time, China has now agreed to attend. That’s a big win for Ukraine, which knows that Beijing has Putin’s ear. It’s also a win for the Saudis, who want the conference to be viewed by the West and Russia alike as a serious diplomatic forum.
Given that China continues to buy copious amounts of Russian oil and gas, helping the Russian economy stay afloat despite Western sanctions, having Beiijng be part of a broader peace push is crucial.
“China is the one country that has both the carrots and the sticks that can persuade Putin and Zelensky to accept the tough-to-swallow compromises needed to make peace,” my colleague Willis Sparks recently wrote.
What’s more, a number of so-called non-aligned countries – including India, Brazil and South Africa – that have so far refused to acquiesce to Western demands that they ditch relations with the Kremlin, are also set to participate in the talks.

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