US President Joe Biden – during his visit to Saudi Arabia – will meet Crown Prince Muhammad ibn Salman, who is accused by the West of ordering the murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashojji. Despite earlier attempts to isolate the Arab leader, Biden ultimately intends to raise important issues with him for both countries.
According to Reuters, the US president’s visit is intended to improve relations between Washington and Riyadh, which have remained tense since the publication of the report on the brutal murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashojji. American intelligence stated in the document that Prince Muhammad ibn Salman himself was behind the murder. The Saudi government vehemently denied the accusations that the prince was involved in the murder of the journalist. In 2019, 11 Saudis were convicted of participating in the crime.
The murder of Jamal Khashojji, who was a critic of Saudi Arabia’s political relations, was a blow to the image of the 36-year-old Crown Prince Muhammad ibn Salman. The murder of a journalist discouraged some investors and also weakened the prince’s image as a reformer seeking to liberalize life in a conservative kingdom.
As Reuters describes, there are many indications that the fervor of foreign critics of the Saudi prince has cooled somewhat. The agency quotes Ayham Kamel from Eurasia Group advisory. Western countries’ efforts to isolate Prince Muhammad “gradually waned,” he said, and Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia would eventually bury them.
– He is there (Biden in Saudi Arabia – ed.) To reactivate US-Saudi relations, which in the current geopolitical climate – caused by war in Ukrainerivalry with China, energy issues and Saudi Arabia’s role in the region all need to be fixed, Ayham Kamel said.
Under a young crown prince, far-reaching reforms – such as the sale of shares of the oil giant Saudi Aramco – went hand in hand with fighting political opponents and the arrests of activists and women’s rights defenders, as well as secret purges against high-ranking members royal familyand businessmen on corruption charges.
The Saudi leader has promised to take a tough stance against the ever-growing enemy of the region, Iran, and has led his kingdom into a costly war in Yemen.
Initially, Muhammad ibn Salman even gained the support of the United States expressed directly by the then president Donald Trump, but after his successor Joe Biden promised a hard course in relations with Riyadh, the prince began sending signals that saw him as a valuable partner for stability in the region by world diplomats. Among these signals were the end of the dispute with Qatar, the start of talks with Iran on the de-escalation of tensions, and the ceasefire in Yemen.
However, relations between Saudi Arabia and the US remain strained, inter alia, by restrictions imposed by Washington on the sale of weapons to the kingdom, as well as the resumption of talks between the USA and Iran on the reactivation of the 2015 nuclear agreement, without the participation of Arab states. Nor did Biden’s declaration that he would not hold talks directly with Prince Muhammad as the de facto leader.
When asked in March this year in an interview with The Atlantic magazine whether Biden might not understand certain things about him, the Crown Prince replied, “Honestly, I don’t care.”
The previously completely unknown Muhammad ibn Salman became famous in 2015, when his father assumed the royal throne. After carrying out a Velvet Coup and replacing his elder cousin as Crown Prince in 2017, King Salman’s son quickly marginalized the influence of the remaining senior royals and took control of intelligence and secret services. These actions caused a considerable reluctance of many family members towards the new prince.
Later that year, Prince Muhammad ordered the arrest of a group of royal family members and other top officials of the state who were then held for months at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. The decision was part of an anti-corruption campaign that shocked public opinion both at home and abroad.
The prince also announced deep reforms aimed at creating new branches of the economy and jobs, as well as introducing changes in the country’s fiscal policy.
When it comes to high-profile social reforms, the new leader, among others it lifted the ban on women driving cars, and allowed for the opening of cinemas and various entertainment activities.
Despite popular popularity among young Saudis and endorsement by many members of the royal family, Muhammad ibn Salman’s leadership was the subject of severe criticism in 2019 from some members of the royal family. The reason was attacks on Saudi refineries, for which the Yemeni was responsible Huti movementbut the United States and its allies blamed Iran.
In March 2020, the authorities arrested the Crown Prince’s cousin and his predecessor, Muhammad ibn Nayef, as well as the royal brother, Prince Ahmed. According to sources close to the royal family, this move was intended to ensure a seamless transfer of power.
Muhammad ibn Salman has many supporters in the region. According to Reuters, some say Saudi Arabia needed his strong rule to make the necessary changes.
The focal point of the economic changes introduced by the prince was the sale of Saudi Aramco shares in 2019. The oil giant from Saudi Arabia was thus valued at almost $ 1.88 trillion. The company easily overtook such giants as Apple and Microsoft.
Reservations on the level of US involvement in the region
The prince also made significant changes to Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. The Kingdom has taken a firmer stance in response to Iran’s growing role in the region, especially in the last decade. According to Reuters, the blame for this state of affairs is the Saudi leader blaming the Barack Obama administration, which, according to the prince, “turned a blind eye to Iran’s threatening expansion” in Arab countries.
Despite the break in diplomatic relations in 2016, Riyadh and Tehran began direct talks to de-escalate tensions in the face of waning Arab confidence in the US involvement in the region.
During your visits to Saudi Arabia Biden is to raise primarily the issues of oil supplies, as well as Israel, Yemen and Iran.
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