Posts Tagged ‘King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’

Saudi Arabia, Canada and the summer of discontent — perplexing, even jarring

August 19, 2018

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults.” But  activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

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By Taylor Luck Correspondent
For Saudi watchers, the headlines out of the kingdom this summer – women’s activists jailed, clerics silenced, a diplomatic row with Canada – have been perplexing, even jarring.

After all, despite Saudi Arabia’s failing war in Yemen, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has an iron grip on power in the oil-rich kingdom and no serious internal rivals and remains in control over one of the wealthiest economies in the world.

Within the Saudi government, the crown prince controls the economy, defense, military, and foreign policy portfolios. It is a direct, top-down power structure; a one-man show.

And from the moment his father, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, made him crown prince a year ago, ending a power struggle within his generation of the Saudi royal family, the young prince, MBS as he is known, has signaled that he is ushering the conservative kingdom into a dramatically more modern, and moderate, era.

In addition to distancing Saudi power structures from the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam that is associated with extremism and terrorism, he has pursued an agenda billed as the “future for the young generation,” allowing cinemas to open, opening the military to women, easing regulations for opening businesses, and ending a decades-long women’s driving ban.

In Canada’s spat with Saudi Arabia, signs of a trickier road for democracies

This spring, moreover, MBS took a triumphant, four-week, coast-to-coast goodwill tour of the United States during which he sold himself as a reformer, a modernizer, and a liberal.

But for critics and analysts, contradictions between his centralized hold on power and his presumed reformist inclinations have existed from the beginning.

Now this series of erratic – or what critics describe as over-reactive – policies has left analysts and diplomats alike wondering if we are witnessing the lashing out of a prince with a surprisingly fragile grip on power or the work of a savvy ruler outmaneuvering rivals while navigating competing local, regional, and international politics. Or, more darkly, the actions of a thin-skinned, but unchecked, strongman.

Crackdown on clerics

In September 2017, Saudi authorities quietly arrested several high-profile clerics, including Salman al-Odeh, an influential Islamic thinker with millions of social media followers.

This month, Riyadh renewed its crackdown on imams, jailing over one dozen prominent Islamic scholars and speakers including Safar al-Hawali and Nasser al-Omar.

A reason reportedly given by Saudi authorities to Western diplomats is that the jailed clerics were opposed to the liberal social reforms that the crown prince is trying to push through, including allowing women to drive, opening cinemas, and allowing mixed entertainment and sporting events.

Moreover, the Crown Prince’s office asserts, these clerics are opposed to his progressive view of a “moderate Islam” that rejects extremist tendencies associated with Wahhabism.

Observers and activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

Many of the jailed clerics such as Mr. Odeh and Mr. Hawali are leaders of the so-called Sahwa movement, a strain of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamism where clerics use Islamic theory to call for democracy and human rights. The movement opposes Western military intervention in the region, but also opposes terrorism against civilians. It was split over the Sunni uprising against US forces in Iraq.

The Sahwa movement, while socially conservative, is ideologically at odds with the Wahhabi school over fealty to monarchs and dictators, and in the 1990s was at odds with the royal family, calling for democracy and organizing protests. In 2011, amid the Arab Spring, scholars such as Odeh used Twitter to reach millions of followers with calls for a constitution, an elected parliament, and the formation of professional associations and unions.

By locking up clerics, the crown prince has removed the few voices who would and could dare to challenge his increasingly autocratic grip on Saudi society.

“These clerics are the only guys that have the ability to challenge the regime,” says Stéphane Lacroix, associate professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris and an expert on Saudi Islamist movements.

“If any political challenge to the regime should come from anywhere, this is it. It is this potential that scares MBS.”

The Qatar factor

Another of this summer’s puzzling Saudi fare was the stunning arrest of women’s rights activists at the very same time the regime says it is increasing women’s role in the work force, military, and public life.

In May, Saudi authorities rounded up 11 women’s rights activists, issuing travel bans and holding many without trial.

As part of an alleged state-sanctioned smear campaign, social media accounts began accusing these activists of crimes against the state; Saudi newspapers ran photos of women’s rights activists with the word “traitor” in a banner above their faces.

Oddly, the crackdown came one month before Riyadh’s announced an end to the ban on women driving, and only days after Mohammed bin Salman completed his much-hyped tour of the United States.

The Saudi regime has recently renewed its arrests of women activists, culminating in the July jailing of activist Samar Badawi, who was awarded the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award by then-first lady Michele Obama in 2012 for her fights for women’s suffrage.

“It basically cancels out a lot of the good publicity Bin Salman got on his US trip, which means it was almost certainly aimed at a domestic or regional audience,” says F. Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M and a longtime Saudi observer.

Professor Gause says a prime explanation for the regime’s actions is the kingdom’s longstanding feud with Qatar, which is driven by a resentment of Qatar’s attempts to rival Saudi Arabia’s influence through backing Islamist groups during the Arab Spring, and the fact that it harbors Saudi dissidents and critics.

“Looking at these arrests, I think you must go back to the issue of Qatar, and the overestimation of Qatar’s power and reach by some within the ruling circle,” he says.

According to the accounts of Arab and Western diplomats, the feud drives much of Riyadh’s domestic and foreign policies. Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates implemented a blockade of the rich emirate in 2017 and have even called for “regime change.”

For Riyadh, the crackdown on human rights activists was both a message that dissent will not be allowed, and a pre-emptive strike immobilizing any potential human rights critics at home that Qatar may try and support in order to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade.

The feud between Riyadh and Toronto came after the Canadian Foreign Ministry issued a Tweet Aug. 3 calling for the immediate release of Ms. Badawi, the acclaimed women’s activist, along with other human rights advocates.

In response, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze trade deals, unloaded Canadian assets, and canceled direct flights to Toronto by the state-owned Saudia Airlines. Even more surreal for some, the kingdom also cancelled scholarships for 8,000 Saudi students studying in Canadian universities, ordering them to return home.

This time, the feud cannot be explained away by power politics or regional scheming.

“There is absolutely no way that a tweet from the Canadian Foreign Ministry will have any effect domestically or regionally on Saudi Arabia,” says Gause.

“This could just come down to personalities. Perhaps it is a case of where you get the crown prince on a bad day.”

Rather than a power play, it may be a symptom of a deeper upset of the system in Saudi Arabia.

Although by no means a democracy, modern Saudi Arabia was built on a careful system of checks and balances within the royal family and between the rulers and Saudi society at large.

The royal family would rule by committee, with the various princes and branches of the family, elites, clerics, and technocrats playing a role in the decisionmaking process.

But in the past two years, Saudi insiders say, as Bin Salman takes policy decisions alone, other royals, clerics, elites, and technocrats are “left in the dark” – and none are allowed to criticize or challenge a decision.

Without those informal restraints to keep a ruler’s worst impulses in check, analysts say, we may now be witnessing the whims of an unfiltered and unbound Saudi royal.

In an era of strongmen with thin skin, launching a trade war and a smear campaign to avenge a perceived personal slight is becoming a norm – and in Saudi Arabia there is no institution to moderate it.

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults,” Gause says. “This is the new Saudi Arabia.”


U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo stresses need for Gulf unity

April 29, 2018

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh , Saudi Arabia April 29, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERSREUTERS

RIYADH (REUTERS) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored the need for unity in the Gulf on Sunday during a brief visit to the Saudi capital.

“Gulf unity is necessary and we need to achieve it,” Pompeo said at a news conference.

Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and arch rival Iran.

Doha has denied the charges and has said the countries aim to curtail its sovereignty.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Sarah Dadouch; editing by Jason Neely)

A month after Hariri saga, Saudi’s Lebanon gambit backfires — “We will punish Lebanon”

December 6, 2017


© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Rana Moussaoui | Saudi Arabia has supported Saad Hariri for years (shown with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud), hoping he would fight back against what it sees as Iran’s main instrument in the region — Lebanon’s powerful Shiite armed movement Hezbollah

BEIRUT (AFP) – A month ago, Saudi Arabia pressured Lebanese premier Saad Hariri to step down in an audacious endeavour to rein in regional rival Iran. But the aftermath brought just the opposite.Not only did Hariri rescind his resignation on Tuesday, but Riyadh’s power play paradoxically led divided Lebanese factions to come together in order to avoid a political breakdown.

The Lebanese cabinet issued a joint statement on Tuesday to reaffirm their commitment to staying out of regional conflicts and apparently put an end to the month-long Hariri saga.

His resignation caught Lebanon and outside countries by surprise, and was seen as a direct result of the escalating power struggle between Riyadh and Tehran that has seen them square off from Syria to Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has supported Hariri for years, hoping he would fight back against what it sees as Iran’s main instrument in the region — Lebanon’s powerful Shiite armed movement Hezbollah.

But in 2016, a landmark compromise deal in Lebanon cut across those political lines, bringing Hariri in as the head of a government that included Hezbollah ministers.

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Saad al-Hariri who suspended his decision to resign as prime minister gestures to his supporters at his home in Beirut, Lebanon November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

– ‘We will punish Lebanon’ –

By the time Hariri’s premiership turned a year old, the Saudis had grown exasperated with Hezbollah’s growing influence and threatened to push back financially, a source close to the premier said.

“When Hariri travelled to Saudi Arabia (in early November), he got a huge shock,” the source said.

“He thought he was going to discuss economic projects. He found himself faced with a list of economic sanctions brandished by the Saudis against Lebanon.”

Riyadh threatened to expel 160,000 Lebanese nationals working in the Gulf and force regional businessmen to withdraw their investments from Lebanon.

“This would have been catastrophic for the country. Hariri had his back up against the wall,” the source said.

The 47-year-old premier wrote his own resignation announcement, crafting it in a way he thought would appease the Saudis.

“He was not a prisoner in the literal sense but the Saudis told him, ‘if you go back to Lebanon, we’ll think of you as Hezbollah, and your government as an enemy,'” the source told AFP.

“They said: ‘We will punish Lebanon like Qatar,'” he said, referring to Saudi’s months-long land, sea, and air blockade on Qatar.

Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs said Riyadh’s plan spectacularly backfired.

“The Saudis wanted to send a powerful message demonstrating their determination to push back on Iran’s foray into the Levant,” said Bitar.

“But it produced a real boomerang effect.”

– ‘Gone too far’ –

After his resignation, Hariri spent two weeks in Riyadh amid furious speculation he was being held “hostage” there by Saudi authorities.

Eventually, he returned to Beirut, put his resignation on hold, and dove into consultations with political rivals.

On Tuesday, he held his first ministerial meeting since his return, declaring he had rescinded his resignation and that Lebanon remained committed to “disassociation,” or neutrality in regional conflicts.

“As fictitious, provisional and fragile as it is, this forced rapprochement between the two Lebanese camps is necessary and welcome, since security and economic risks are real,” Bitar said.

He expected Riyadh would continue demanding Hezbollah withdraw its forces from Yemen.

“The Saudis want more than just cosmetic concessions,” Bitar warned.

“The Saudis have not said their last word yet. They’re still determined to clip Iran’s wings in the region.”

Last week, Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir warned “there will not be peace” in Lebanon as long as Hezbollah stayed armed.

Riyadh, however, has also struggled to backpedal on its faux pas after Hariri’s resignation sparked French and US interventions on his behalf.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman “realised he had gone too far… and that the operation resulted in Hariri regaining popularity,” a French diplomatic source told AFP.

Another Western source told AFP that Riyadh remained “very reluctant” to back Hariri, now once again leading a cabinet that includes Hezbollah.

“They thought he would be able to counter Hezbollah. The opposite happened,” the source said.

And the source close to Hariri said Saudi’s crown prince was not necessarily wedded to the Lebanese premier.

“MBS isn’t sentimental,” the source said, using a popular nickname for Mohammed Bin Salman.

“With him, it’s give and take. In his eyes, Beirut isn’t more important than Riyadh,” the source added, describing the heir to the Saudi throne as “the prince in a rush.”

Questions remain over what Saudi’s next move in Lebanon will be.

“Even Riyadh’s closest allies in Lebanon fear Saudi’s intransigence will cost the Lebanese economy dearly, without weakening Hezbollah much,” said Bitar.

Back at the helm, Hariri will attend crisis talks in Paris on Friday with top foreign officials, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

But if the Saudis pursue their policy of “one-upmanship,” Bitar warned, “France and Europe may not be able to do much to protect Lebanon from the escalating dangers on the regional level.”

by Rana Moussaoui

Iran vs Saudi Arabai: As Middle East Heats Up

November 13, 2017


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Missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit:NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)

LONGSTANDING rivals have hit a crisis point as tensions continue to escalate. Patience is wearing thin on both sides.

NOVEMBER 13, 2017 — 11:36AM

THEY have never been the best of friends, and a recent escalation in tensions means Saudi Arabia and Iran are unlikely to become allies anytime soon.

A Yemeni missile attack, the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister and a crown prince moving to consolidate his power have all seen tensions flare up across the region once again.

While experts agree the risk of military conflict remains low, there is no doubt the “Cold War” between Middle East rivals has been heating up for months.

The recent flare-ups are just the start of a long list of incidents between the two powerhouses, whose longstanding rivalry predates the Iranian revolution of 1979.


The tensions have been years in the making.

Riyadh and Tehran broke off diplomatic relations in January 2016 after Iranians stormed Saudi Arabia’s embassy and consulate in response to the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

That followed the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers, which Riyadh feared was a step towards ending Iran’s international isolation.

Rhetoric between the two powers grew increasingly belligerent, including over Saudi Arabia’s Gulf neighbour Qatar.

Riyadh and several of its Sunni allies broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017, accusing Doha of support for extremism and links with Iran, claims that it denies.

This month, the animosity reached new heights.

Children sit in the rubble of a house hit by Saudi-led coalition air strikes on the outskirts of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Picture: Mohammed Huwais/AFP

Children sit in the rubble of a house hit by Saudi-led coalition air strikes on the outskirts of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Picture: Mohammed Huwais/AFPSource:AFP

First, the Saudi-supported prime minister of Lebanon, Saad al-Hariri, in a broadcast from Riyadh announced his resignation, blaming Iran’s “grip” on his country via Shiite movement Hezbollah.

Several hours later, Saudi Arabia said its air defences near Riyadh intercepted and destroyed a missile fired from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Shiite rebels.

That set off a fierce war of words between Riyadh and Tehran, with Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accusing Iran of “direct military aggression”.

Tehran denied any involvement in the missile attack, with President Hassan Rouhani warning that Iranian “might” would fend off any challenge.


Pointing to wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Clement Therme, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told the AFP the main cause of the current tensions is related to the “proxy confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia”.

Recent months have seen changes in these confrontations that appear to have brought the tensions to a head, he said.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh, insisting he will return to his country within days. Picture: Future TV/AP

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri gives a live TV interview in Riyadh, insisting he will return to his country within days. Picture: Future TV/APSource:AP

In Iraq and Syria, the increasingly successful campaign against the Islamic State group has changed the situation on the ground. Offensives in both countries have forced the jihadists from nearly all the territory they seized in mid-2014.

As Iraq looks to a post-IS era, Riyadh has been taking steps to build stronger ties with the country’s Shiite-dominated government.

A flurry of visits between the two countries this year saw talk of a warming of ties, including a trip by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Riyadh in late October.

In Syria, meanwhile, the Iran-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad has over the past year managed to reassert control over large parts of the country by defeating, among others, rebel groups backed by Riyadh.


Lowy Institute research fellow Dr Rodger Shanahan, an expert on Middle East security, told it was important to take a deep breath when using the term “Cold War”.

Dr Shanahan said there had been significant tension between the two Middle Eastern nations for years but that had increased recently with several events, including the rise of Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh last May. Picture: Saudi Royal Palace/AFP

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh last May. Picture: Saudi Royal Palace/AFPSource:AFP

He said the Crown Prince was trying to show he’s “investing in the Kingdom for generations to come” by appealing to core Saudi youth with social policies such as allowing women to drive and by consolidating his power.

“At the same time arrests of intellectuals and clerics has sent a strong message to the clerical class that there’s a new king who’s going to be around for a long time,” he said.

His anti-corruption crackdown on elite and powerful businessmen was also designed to show potential opponents who was in charge and he was in control of state intelligence.

Dr Shanahan said the Crown Prince was also showing the elite he was in charge and that he was an ally not to be criticised.

Almost 50 Saudi royals and dignitaries arrested by the Crown Prince’s anti corruption committee in a tough crackdown last week. Military officials and government ministers as well as 11 princes — among them Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — the 10th richest man on the planet — were among those arrested.

The Crown Prince is looking to “solidify his position” as he pursues an anti-corruption purge some see as an attempt to cement his hold on power, Dr Shanahan said.

“Saudi is trying to regain the regional influence it has had in the past,” Dr Shanahan said. “With ISIS defeated, Saudi is showing it’s influential in Iraq and Syria.”


Domestic and regional influences are not the only forces at play. Analysts said the election of US president Donald Trump a year ago has also contributed to the rise in recent tensions.

Mr Trump’s open hostility towards Tehran has emboldened Riyadh, according to Dr Ben Rich, a lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Social Sciences and Security Studies at Curtin University.

“It’s certainly been an intense couple of weeks,” Dr Rich said. “Saudi and Iran rivalry dates back before the 1979 (Iran) revolution, they are two natural hegemons in the region.”

Dr Rich pointed out the Trump administration’s support for Saudi Arabia was in contrast to the Obama administration, which tried to bring Iran in from the cold by turning a blind eye and offering the country an olive branch.

Riyadh’s palatial Ritz-Carlton is reported to have morphed into a makeshift prison after the kingdom's unprecedented crackdown on the coddled elite. Picture: Giuseooe Cacace/AFP

Riyadh’s palatial Ritz-Carlton is reported to have morphed into a makeshift prison after the kingdom’s unprecedented crackdown on the coddled elite. Picture: Giuseooe Cacace/AFPSource:AFP

“The Trump administration has pulled a 180 on that and this has emboldened Saudi,” he said.

Dr Rich said the Crown Prince was appealing on a domestic and international level by trying to break away from some traditional norms. “The Crown Prince is showing he’s more willing to be proactive and confrontational,” he said.

The two Middle Eastern nations have traditionally been on different sides when it comes to Iraq, Syria and also Qatar.

Dr Rich said King Salman had given his son significant power and sees him as the heir to the throne however despite announcing significant reforms has yet to actually implement any significant ones so far.

Soaring tensions with Iran help legitimise his hold on power for someone relatively young.


As tensions rise, Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri said he will return to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia in two or three days to affirm that he has quit.

In an interview with a television station that he owns, the Saudi-allied Hariri, Lebanon’s most influential Sunni Muslim politician, Mr al-Hariri gave his first public comments since he read out his resignation on television from Riyadh eight days ago.

He said Lebanon was at risk of Arab economic sanctions because of what he described as interventions in Yemen and Bahrain by the powerful, Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is part of the coalition government Hariri has led, Reuters reported.

Mr al-Hariri, who has not returned to Lebanon since he declared his shock resignation, said he stepped down for the sake of the Lebanese national interest, repeatedly saying the country must stick by a policy of “disassociation” from regional conflict.

After announcing his resignation, Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war against it because of Hezbollah.

Writing in Defense One, Robert Malley, vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group, said Lebanon has always been used as a venue for proxy wars between the region’s powerful actors.

According to him, the Crown Prince wanted the Lebanese PM to step down and he is determined to depict Tehran as the source of all regional evils.

“For Hariri to preside over a government that includes Hezbollah fundamentally undercut that core message: It meant allowing one of Riyadh’s closest allies to co-operate with Tehran’s most loyal partner,” he writes.

“Hariri as prime minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt.”

— with AFP and Reuters

Russia and Saudi Arabia ‘sign $3bn arms deal’ as King Salman visit shows how much relations have changed

October 6, 2017

Sergei Lavrov calls it ‘a real turning point’. For Saudi Arabia, King Salman says, Russia is ‘a friendly country’

By Oliver Carroll Moscow

The Independent 

A faulty golden aircraft escalator and anger from Moscow’s elite about a 200-strong Saudi retinue taking over all the city’s 5-star hotels failed to dampen the fanfare accompanying King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on his first state visit to Russia. Met with an honour guard of dignitaries and the Preobrazhensky military orchestra, the Saudi king was sped along on a highway specially lined with billboards advertising the visit and a week-long festival of Saudi culture.

This was a big deal for Russia – with multi-billion energy and defence contracts in the balance – and it wanted King Salman to know.

Ahead of the visit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the event as “an historical moment”. At the summit in the Kremlin on Thursday, Vladimir Putin agreed: This was a “landmark event” that would provide a “boost” to relations. And King Salman returned the compliments. Russia was “a friendly country,” he said.

According to the Kommersant newspaper, agreement has already been reached on a $3bn (£2.2bn) deal to supply the Saudis with Russia’s most advanced air defence missile system, the S400 Triumph. According to the publication, the deal will be signed off at a WTO meeting at the end of October. There may be other deals forthcoming on aircraft and helicopters – that depending on the success of talks.

Defence is one of few technological sectors where Russia can still claim to be a world leader, with over a fifth of all arms deals in 2016. But with China and India, Russia’s biggest markets, looking to move towards military self-sufficiency, Russia is with increasing urgency looking to open new markets.

The Saudi partnership comes at the end of several years of courtship – and off the back of a tetchy relationship.

Russia first announced that it had brokered a $20m (£15m) deal back in 2012. But that deal had several strings attached, namely a demand that the Kremlin could not sell the C-300 missile system to Iran, the Saudis’ major regional rivals. Then, President Putin looked the other way, signing off on a new arms contract with Tehran worth $1bn (£762m).

That move underlined the historical distrust between the two countries. The Saudis have been accused for supporting anti-Russian insurgency – whether in mujahedeens against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, or Wahhabist Islamic groups in Chechnya and Dagestan. The presence of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s rascal president and keen promoter of rival Sufism ideology, at talks in the Kremlin served as a reminder of those differences.

Most recently, Russian operations in Syria have put it in direct conflict with Saudi interests. The Saudis remain opposed to Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is being supported by Russian military power. The gulf kingdom, on its part, is also believed to be funding rebel groups opposed to al-Assad.

But while the sides remain some way from a common position, the Independent has learned negotiators believe progress on de-escalation zones may be made.

“The Saudis have lost interest and realise that Russia now owns the crisis,” says Yuri Barmin, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. “They see how the balance of power is changing in the region: how the US is pulling out and how Russia is now increasing its influence in the Middle East.”

The Boeing 747 carrying Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrives in Moscow’s Vnukovo II airport (EPA)

Russia’s geopolitical march in the region has made a highly improbable state visit possible. But the timing of the talks has little to do with Syria. Instead, King Salman is believed to be in Moscow to shore up international support for his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, next in line to the throne.

“King Salman wants Russia’s backing for his son,” says Mr Barmin. “Bin Salman is poorly perceived at home over his role in the unpopular Yemen war and the blockade of Qatar.”

 Image result for S-400, photos

For Russia the stakes are even higher. Hamstrung by Western sanctions and uncompetitive industry, it hopes the new bonhomie will provide impetus to its struggling economy.

On Wednesday, President Putin hinted that there would likely be further cooperation to lift the oil price, the lifeblood of the Russian economy. Ministers also made it clear that they hope the Saudi delegation will deliver on investment from the kingdom’s sovereign wealth funds.

So far, the record on Saudi investment is poor. Of $10bn (£7bn) promised to Russia in 2015, only $1billion has actually ever materialised.

Saudi Crown Prince Says U.S.-Saudi Ties Strong

February 11, 2017

KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s relations with the United States are “historic and strategic”, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said on the occasion of the visit of CIA director Mike Pompeo to Riyadh.

This is the first reported visit by a senior Trump administration appointee to the kingdom.

“Our relationship with the United States is historic and strategic, any attempts to undermine that will falter,” Prince Mohammed said, according to state news agency SPA late on Friday.

Prince Mohammed, who is also interior minister, said his country will continue to combat terrorism.

In a recent phone call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman invited U.S President Donald Trump “to lead a Middle East effort to defeat terrorism and to help build a new future, economically and socially,” for Saudi Arabia and the region.

(Writing by Reem Shamseddine Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)


CIA honors Saudi crown prince with ‘George Tenet Medal’

Sat Feb 11, 2017 7:21AM
CIA Director Micheal Pompeo hands the “George Tenet Medal” to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef at a reception ceremony in Riyadh, February 10, 2017. (Photo by SPA)
CIA Director Micheal Pompeo hands the “George Tenet Medal” to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef at a reception ceremony in Riyadh, February 10, 2017. (Photo by SPA)

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has honored Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with its prestigious “George Tenet Medal” for his “intelligence work in the fight against terrorism.”

The medal was handed to Nayef, who is deputy prime minister and minister of interior, by CIA Director Micheal Pompeo on Friday during a reception ceremony in Riyadh.

Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, and several other senior Saudi officials were also in attendance.

In a statement after receiving the medal, Nayef said he appreciated the CIA honor and framed it as a recognition of what he called Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism efforts under the directives of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

“Saudi Arabia rejects and denounces strongly terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” the crown prince was quoted as saying by the Saudi media.

“The kingdom has been keen to combat terrorism based on its conviction that terrorism has no identity and no religion, and from its belief that the terrorists are committing these acts stemming from their deviant ideologies and evil thought,” he stated.

“All negative religious, political and social ideologies that use religion as a tool throughout human history, do not reflect the absolute truth about religion,” Nayef added.

This is while Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is widely preached and practiced, stands accused of supporting terrorist groups fighting the Syrian government since 2011.

Daesh and other Takfiri terror groups use the extremist ideology to declare people of other faiths as “infidels” and thus to kill them.

In his statement, Nayef also underlined the importance of the “strong and historic” US-Saudi ties, saying the two sides would not allow anything or anyone to come between the allies.

Relations between Washington and Riyadh strained last year over congressional legislation seeking to make it easier for families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

The World Trade Center in New York is engulfed in flames after being struck on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Reuters)


Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who allegedly carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks came from Saudi Arabia and available evidence suggests some of them were linked to high-ranking Saudi officials.

Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a military campaign against Yemen since March 2015 to reinstate the country’s resigned president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, and undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The Saudi war has killed more than 11,400 Yemenis, and taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.

The Pentagon has been providing logistic and surveillance support to the Saudi regime in the military aggression against Yemen. Riyadh has purchased billions of dollars worth of American warplanes and other weaponry it is using in Yemen.

Wife of jailed Saudi blogger Badawi campaigns for his release

May 29, 2015


Picture shows the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar, in Berlin on May 21, 2015. Credit

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

The wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison on charges of insulting Islam, says his health is declining rapidly as she campaigns for his release.

“Raif is a man of peace and freedom, he has committed no crime,” his wife Ensaf Haidar told a press conference in Paris on Friday, organised with the help of Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. “We miss him. I am missing a husband and my children are missing a father.”

Speaking calmly and with a steady timbre, she recounted the nightmare that has engulfed her family.

“As soon as he launched his blog in 2006, Raif began receiving threats. Yet all he did was create a space where people could exchange ideas, that’s it. But things got worse starting in 2008. A first fatwa was launched against him for apostasy [deserting one’s religion]. A Saudi Sheikh accused Raif of not being a true Muslim. Then the situation became really serious and dangerous,” she recalled.

Rights activists say Badawi’s troubles are not unique in Saudi Arabia, where deeply conservative religious forces leave virtually no space for free expression. Badawi, a self-avowed liberal Saudi, was targeted for promoting wider debate of social and religious issues.

‘Never insulting’

Badawi’s case has nevertheless caught the world’s attention. While his wife and three children were exiled in Lebanon and then Canada, Raif was dragged through Saudi Arabia’s maze-like legal system, which is based on Islam’s sharia law.

First sentenced in 2013 to seven years behind bars and 600 lashes, the punishment was brought up to 10 years and 1,000 lashes, plus a fine, last year. “Everyone was taken aback, even him,” Haidar said Friday. “His writing has always been respectful of others. He never insulted a religious authority.”

According to a 2013 BBC web article, evidence brought against Badawi included the fact that he pressed the “Like” button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians. Another charge was disobeying his father.

The first 50 lashes of the sentence were administered on January 9, 2015. Badawi, who is said to suffer from hypertension, has struggled to recover from that initial flogging. The second lashings session has reportedly been delayed 12 times.

“His physical state has severely declined. So has his mind. A committee of eight doctors examined him [in prison]. They concluded that his body would not be able to take more lashings,” Haidar said, adding that she had “irregular” communication with her husband at best.

“Raif shares a jail cell with 13 or 14 other inmates. He gets no exercise and very poor nutrition, but I prefer not to say more for fear things will get worse for him,” she said.

Haidar’s campaign on behalf of her husband will take her across Europe in the next few days. Her mission has become all the more pressing in light of a potential new trial against Badawi, this time for apostasy, a crime punishable by death in the Saudi kingdom.

Royal pardon?

Haidar tries to remain hopeful and insists her European tour is already having a positive impact: “I hope it will lead to his release. He already knows he is not alone, even if he has to live with the thought he will not see his children for the next 10 years.”

She said there was also a chance King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud could come to her husband’s rescue. “Every year during Ramadan, the King pardons several prisoners of conscience. This year, perhaps he will show Raif clemency,” she said.

Reporters without Borders chief Christophe Deloire said it was difficult to gauge King Salman.

“It is difficult to know if the king is receptive to outside pressure. But perhaps the suspension of lashings sessions, officially for medical reasons, has to do with the growing outcry from the international community,” he said.

This article was translated from the original in French.