Reclamation of lost space by Saudi Crown Prince

ByFahad Ali

Associated with maritime trade


October 10, 2022

Fahad Ali describes a gradual change in attitude towards once a reviled de-facto ruler

Muhammad bin Salman, widely dubbed as MBS, was treated as a pariah just three years ago when he was suspected of the involvement of grisly murder of a dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Initially, the suspicion of MBS’ assassination was veiled but gradually various leaders came out openly against this ghastly act and became public with their denunciation. The first to denounce MBS was of course President Erdogan of Turkey in whose country the despicable act had taken place on the reclamation of lost space by the Saudi Crown Prince.

President Erdogan already held a grudge against Saudi Arabia for not releasing a financial tranche Turkey was expecting that added an additional angle to his denunciation of the murder. The pressure from the journalistic community, as Khashoggi was a columnist for the Washington Post, the US initiated a CIA inquiry that assessed Khashoggi’s killers were acting on the orders of MBS and that opened the floodgates of condemnation of politicians and leaders around the world calling for justice and accountability. Subsequently, MBS was universally shunned and his prestige sank to new lows. In 2015 when he

unexpectedly became the Crown Prince at the young age of 29 he was anxiously welcomed and created a good impression when he visited many countries, particularly America where he showed keenness to engage with the private sector. He also indicated opening up his country and took measures to remove hackneyed regulations particularly related to women. He allowed the screening of films in public cinemas. Along with his progressive measures, however, his harsh treatment of many members of the family was internationally frowned upon. His flagrant incarceration of the Lebanese prime minister in Riyadh also raised global concerns and the ensuing situation compelled the French president to dash to Saudi Arabia to intercede.

Ukraine-Russian War

MBS’ ferocious and fruitless war in Yemen also added to his unpopularity and made it difficult for many countries to deal with him. The cumulative results were that his efforts to partly sell shares of Saudi Aramco brought much fewer returns than expected. In an international investment conference MBS organized in Saudi Arabia most firms withheld their CEOs and sent their deputies instead. Since becoming the de-facto ruler seven years ago MBS has defied all predictions and has grown from strength to strength.

He has now been named the Prime Minister, a rank in the cabinet form of government that was once reserved for the monarch. The cabinet system was devised by King Feisal in 1964 when he took over the monarchy after his elder brother was deposed for inefficiency. King Feisal also designated the crown prince as deputy prime minister along with appointing a second crown prince. King Salman has done away with the practice of appointing the practice of designating a second crown prince though he has appointed his other son Khalid as defense minister, a position usually held by the second crown prince.

As they say, however, time is the most potent healer, and coupled with the compulsions of real politics MBS has clawed his way back to favor. The pressures of the Ukraine-Russian war that brought about Russian blackmail of oil and gas have made the world look for alternatives and all attention has turned towards MBS. The icing on the cake was President Biden bumping his fists with MBS in Jeddah during his visit. It is worth noting that it was the same Biden who in a November 2019 presidential debate vowed that under his watch America will not sell weapons to Saudi Arabia but in fact will make them pay the price.

Rehabilitating MBS

And make them the pariah that they are and that there is very little socially redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia. Just after meeting MBS, rather sheepishly rationalized explained that his aim was to reorient but not rupture relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years.

Rehabilitating MBS on the world stage was the edgy Erdogan who had earlier written the murder of Jamal Khashoggi involves a lot more than a group of security officials, just as the Watergate scandal was bigger than a break-in and the 9/11 terror attacks went beyond the hijackers. As responsible members of the international community.

The identity of the puppet masters behind Khashoggi’s killing is required to be revealed clearly incriminating MBS. However, after hectic diplomatic efforts on part of MBS, Erdogan ended Turkey’s prosecution of Khashoggi’s killers and visited Riyadh as part of his efforts to gain Saudi investment in Turkey’s struggling economy. He hosted MBS in Ankara welcoming the prince with kisses on both cheeks.

President Macron of France had interceded in getting Lebanese PM Saad Hariri released from the grip of MBS held him hostage in Riyadh in gross violation of international violation and was naturally livid at Khashoggi’s murder that provided him the opportunity to release his pent-up anger.

He accordingly expressed his profound indignation at the crime and demanded that all should be done to bring to the fore expose the circumstances that led to this drama adding that France will not hesitate to take international sanctions, together with its international partners, against the guilty. Last November, however, he became one of the first Western leaders to meet with MBS — since Khashoggi’s murder. In July, the French president hosted MBS in Paris, seen engaged in a long handshake.

Former British PM Thoughts

Former British PM Boris Johnson writing while he was a journalist before becoming the PM termed Khashoggi’s murder sick and bizarre adding that this cannot become a pattern and we cannot just let it pass. But then as PM Johnson visited Riyadh and met with MBS to discuss energy security stating that despite the negative publicity about certain matters regarding human rights things are changing in Saudi Arabia.

And that is why there is value in the partnership with Saudi Arabia. Johnson’s successor as Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was foreign secretary at the time. In June, she told a parliamentary committee what she would say is that Saudi Arabia is an important partner of the United Kingdom.

The most hard-pressed economy currently is Germany which is now directly bearing the brunt of Russia. Germany actually stopped arms sales to Saudi Arabia with the then-Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas decrying Khashoggi’s murder in the strongest possible terms by stating that the available information on the events in the Istanbul consulate is insufficient.

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, then finance minister, agreed, calling the killing cruel and saying those responsible should be held accountable, and now the same Scholz, Merkel’s successor as chancellor, visited Saudi Arabia and met with MBS. Although said that he discussed human rights issues with the crown prince, he also said he wanted Germany’s energy partnership with the kingdom.

As MBS is once again courted by world leaders, Saudi efforts to sanitize the kingdom’s image through multibillion-dollar investments in high-profile art and cultural events also carry on. All the while, repression continues at home and it is quite surprising to witness MBS going to such lengths to suppress his countrymen whereas he claims to have the support of the youth of Saudi Arabia. The Weekender


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