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Saudi King Abdulaziz visits Turkey on April 11-13 to boost ties

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Entire West Asia, except US sponsored Israel, has been in turmoil for years now with foreign forces invading, occupying and destabilizing the Arab nations one by one. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in recent times have come together to make the region tension free as well as nuke free. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Riyadh last year became a turning point in the bilateral relations.

The King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud pays an official visit to Turkey on April 11-13 to boost bilateral ties and discuss a range of issues from bilateral to global matters. Turkish president’s office confirmed in a statement that the meetings would be held within the framework of the visit, in addition to bilateral relations, both regional and global issues will be dealt with. The most important item in King’s bag is the Islamic Army and the fight against terror in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

The visit, the first after the King was crowned in January 2015, comes on the eve of another round of peace talks on Syria in Geneva this week. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia remain staunchly opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and support rebel factions that have been fighting a five-year battle to oust the Damascus government. Both Ankara and Riyadh want Assad’s departure as part of the peace deal that will follow the agreement on cessation of hostilities in Syria.

The King‘s visit may serve an opportunity to better coordinate some of the policies between Ankara and Riyadh with respect to policies in the region. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are regional heavyweights that pursue by and large similar policies albeit with some differences. However, they differ on who should be replacing Assad in the post-conflict era.

During the visit of Saudi King, a formal agreement establishing a high-level strategic council, a mechanism for intergovernmental conference, is expected to sign by leaders of both sides. The idea was first proposed during Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December and was further discussed by visiting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Riyadh in January. Davutoglu underlined that the agreement will frame the shared strategic perspective in a structural form, saying that it would further deepen bilateral ties.

Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been making efforts to find a credible solution to Syrian crisis and following Putin’s decision to withdraw forces and end hostilities in Syria, they sought to speed up efforts to make Syria a peaceful nation.

Apparently, Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been propping the pro-Islam religious group Muslim Brotherhood to a role of power broker in future Syrian government while Saudi Arabia is concerned about the prospect of raising profile for political Islamists who may want to extend their influence to the kingdom eventually. Riyadh wants Turkey to help muting the effects of political Islamists in Saudi kingdom.

Erdogan’s visit follows a period of tension between the two regional powers over Egypt, with Turkey backing deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi and the Saudis backing his successor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In turn, Turkey’s relationship with Egypt soured after the Egyptian military ousted Morsi. Cairo accused Turkey of interference and supporting the Brotherhood, which Egypt designated as a terrorist organisation in December of the same year.

The fact that Turkey and Egypt, two heavyweights in the region, are at odds each other has complicated Saudi Arabia’s initiatives in the Middle East. Turkey is keen to foster better business and trade ties with Saudi Arabia. Turkish businesses eye defense and housing markets in Saudi Arabia while Ankara tries to woo Saudi investors to Turkey. The Turkish leader said his government would like to see Saudi investment, which currently stood at some two billion US dollars, to go up to 10 billion and later 20 in stages. The trade volume between the two countries was 5.9 billion dollars in 2012 and came down to 5.6 billion in 2015. According to the latest available trade data from the Turkish government, the volume has only slightly increased by 2.3 percent in January-February period, comparing to the same period last year.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia has led an initiative to form 34-nation Islamic military alliance against radical terrorist groups. Turkey said it would join the alliance. Pro-government media run stories praising the alliance, dubbing the initiative as rivaling to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance (NATO). In February, the Turkish military along with some 20 countries took part in a region-wide military exercise led by Saudi Arabia. Riyadh also sent several F-15 fighter jets to join a military drill run by Turkish Air Force in the province of Konya in central Turkey.

Against the backdrop of Iran’s rising influence in the region, especially in the Gulf, Riyadh has been lobbying Sunni nations to jointly thwart what it calls Iran’s regional ambitions and expansionist policies. In January, Turkey sided with Saudi Arabia when Riyadh had a diplomatic rift with Tehran over the execution of an influential Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia and the orchestrated attacks on the Saudi missions in Iran. Both Ankara and Riyadh are concerned about developments in Iraq and Yemen where sectarian conflicts pose a spillover risks to both Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among regional countries that signed on to the USA-led coalition against the threat of Islamic State (IS) militant group. In February, four Saudi warplanes were deployed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base in southern province Adana near Syrian border to take part in aerial missions against the ISIS.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have emerged as two of the most stable countries following the Arab uprisings and, with ongoing fighting in neighbouring countries; both are keen to maintain regional stability. While Saudi Arabia relies on its ability to maintain allies through financial support and on its leading status among the Gulf countries to preserve stability, such as providing army troops to quell the protests in Bahrain, Turkey’s position has favored other forces, offering support to the Islamist parties which entered politics following the overthrow of dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Contemporary relations between European Turkey and West Asian Saudi Arabia appear to be on a major high. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said relations between the two are at a commendable level but far from reflecting the true potential but knowing the critical ramifications of regional conflicts for peace and security in the entire region, both Islamic leaders try to bridge the gap lying between them. Highlighting the crises across the region, Kalin said that Turkey and Saudi Arabia had agreed to expand their bilateral relations which he said “will go a long way in confronting the current crises.

Where the countries’ foreign policies have aligned, they have sought to head a Sunni front against what they perceive to be the threat of Iranian hegemony by seeking out alliances with other countries in the region and supporting the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi kingdom, on the other hand, has offered Egypt millions of dollars in aid. Even after damning leaks appeared to reveal Sisi ridiculing his Gulf backers and saying he despised them, King Salman told Saudi media that bilateral ties were “stronger than any attempt to disturb them.” But in recent weeks there has been speculation of a shift in Saudi’s policy towards the Brotherhood after the country’s foreign minister Saud bin Faisal said publicly that Riyadh has “no problem” with the group – which has raised bigger questions of Saudi’s greater policy towards Egypt.

Saudi commentators also highlighting the warming overtures, follow Erdogan’s first visit as president, a position he took over last August, to Saudi Arabia where he met with the new Saudi monarch King Salman, successor of the late King Abdullah.

The King, who visits Egypt before heading to Turkey, has been reportedly endeavoring to mend the fences between Ankara and Cairo. Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Egypt broke off after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 amid popular protests. Turkey says it does not recognize regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as legitimate.

After wrapping his official visit in Ankara, the Saudi monarch will fly to Istanbul for the 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit. Although it is not officially confirmed yet, Turkish media claimed Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, may come for the OIC summit in Turkey, marking a first official step between the two.

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Middle East

Will Oman Succeed In What The UN And US Envoys Failed In Yemen?

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Since taking office on January 20, US President Joe Biden has made a priority for Yemen and appointed Tim Linderking as the US special envoy to Yemen to seek an end of the war that has been going on for more than six years, which made Yemen live “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, as described by the United Nations.

Nearly four months after his appointment as a special envoy to Yemen, and after several visits to the region, and several meetings through Omani coordination with representatives of the Houthi movement in Muscat, Linderking returned to the United States empty-handed, announcing that the Houthis are responsible for the failure of the ceasefire to take hold in Yemen. The US State Department said “While there are numerous problematic actors inside of Yemen, the Houthis bear major responsibility for refusing to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and to take steps to resolve a nearly seven-year conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people”.

Two days only after the US State Department statement, which blamed the Houthis for the failure of the peace process in Yemen, an Omani delegation from the Royal Office arrives in Sana’a. What are the goals behind their visit to Sana’a, and will the Omani efforts be crowned with success?

Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdul Salam said that “the visit of a delegation from the Omani Royal Office to Sanaa is to discuss the situation in Yemen, arrange the humanitarian situation, and advancing the peace process”. However, observers considered that the delegation carried an American message to the Houthi leader as a last attempt to pressure the Houthis to accept a ceasefire, and to continue the peace efforts being made to end the war and achieve peace, especially after the failure of all intensive efforts in the past days by the United Nations and the United States of America to reach a ceasefire as a minimum requirement for peace.

Oman was the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council that decided not to participate in what was called “Operation Decisive Storm”, led by Saudi Arabia following its consistent policy of non-interference. Due to its positive role since the beginning of the crisis and its standing at the same distance from all the conflicting local and regional parties in Yemen, it has become the only qualified and trusted party by all the conflicting parties, who view it as a neutral side that has no interest in further fighting and fragmentation.

On the local level, Oman enjoys the respect and trust of the Houthis, who have embraced them and their negotiators for years and provided them with a political platform and a point of contact with the international parties concerned with solving the Yemeni problem, as well as embracing other political parties loyal to the legitimate government, especially those who had a different position to the Saudi-Emirati agenda during the last period.

At the regional level, Oman maintains strong historical relations with the Iran, and it is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and this feature enables it to bring the views between the two sides closer to reach a ceasefire and ending the Yemeni crisis that has raved the region for several years as a proxy war between the regional rivalries Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Oman now possesses the trust and respect of all local, regional and international parties, who resorted to it recently and they are all pushing to reach a ceasefire and ending the crisis, after they have reached a conviction that it is useless. So the Omani delegation’s public visit to Sana’a has great connotations and an important indication of the determination of all parties to reach breakthrough in the Yemeni crisis.

The international community, led by the United States, is now looking forward to stop the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also is looking for an end to the war that cost the kingdom a lot and it is already presented an initiative to end the Yemeni crisis, as well as Iran’s preoccupation with its nuclear program and lifting of sanctions.

Likewise, the conflicting local parties reached a firm conviction that military resolution is futile, especially after the Houthis’ failed attempt for several months to control Marib Governorate the rich of oil and gas and the last strongholds of the government in the north, which would have changed the balance of power in the region as a whole.

Despite the ambiguity that is still surrounding the results of the Omani delegation’s visit to Sana’a so far, there is great optimism to reach a cease-fire and alleviate the humanitarian crisis and other measures that pave the way for entering into the political track to solve the Yemeni crisis.

The situation in Yemen is very complicated and the final solution is still far away, but reaching a ceasefire and the start of negotiations may be a sign of hope and a point of light in the dark tunnel of Yemenis who have suffered for years from the curse of this war and its devastating effects.

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Saudi Arabia steps up effort to replace UAE and Qatar as go-to regional hub

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Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to outflank the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the Gulf’s commercial, cultural, and/or geostrategic hub.

The kingdom has recently expanded its challenge to the smaller Gulf states by seeking to position Saudi Arabia as the region’s foremost sport destination once Qatar has had its moment in the sun with the 2022 World Cup as well as secure a stake in the management of regional ports and terminals dominated so far by the UAE and to a lesser extent Qatar.

Saudi Arabia kicked off its effort to cement its position as the region’s behemoth with an announcement in February that it would cease doing business by 2024 with international companies whose regional headquarters were not based in the kingdom. 

With the UAE ranking 16 on the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index as opposed to Saudi Arabia at number 62, freewheeling Dubai has long been international business’s preferred regional headquarters.

The Saudi move “clearly targets the UAE” and “challenges the status of Dubai,” said a UAE-based banker.

A latecomer to the port control game which is dominated by Dubai’s DP World that operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, the kingdom’s expansion into port and terminal management appears to be less driven by geostrategic considerations.

Instead, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was targeting ports that would service vital Saudi imports such as those related to food security.

PIF and China’s Cosco Shipping Ports each bought a 20 per cent stake in RSGT in January.

The Chinese investment fits into China’s larger Belt and Road-strategy that involves the acquisition regionally of stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

RSGT Chief Executive Officer Jens Floe said the company planned to invest in at least three international ports in the next five years. He said each investment would be up to US$500 million.

“We have a focus on ports in Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t picked for that reason, but they happen to be significant countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” Mr. Floe said.

Saudi Arabia’s increased focus on sports, including a potential bid for the hosting of the 2030 World Cup serves multiple goals: It offers Saudi youth who account for more than half of the kingdom’s population a leisure and entertainment opportunity, it boosts Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s burgeoning development of a leisure and entertainment industry, potentially allows Saudi Arabia to polish its image tarnished by human rights abuse, including the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and challenges Qatar’s position as the face of Middle Eastern sports.

A recent report by Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group that focuses on Saudi Arabia and China, estimated that the kingdom has so far invested in US$1.5 billion in the hosting of multiple sporting events, including the final matches of Italy and Spain’s top soccer leagues; Formula One; boxing, wrestling and snooker matches; and golf tournaments. Qatar is so far the Middle East’s leader in the hosting of sporting events followed by the UAE.

Grant Liberty said that further bids for sporting events worth US$800 million had failed. This did not include an unsuccessful US$600 million offer to replace Qatar’s beIN tv sports network as the Middle Eastern broadcaster of European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia reportedly continues to ban beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom despite the lifting in January of 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy and ween it off dependency on oil exports “has set the creation of professional sports and a sports industry as one of its goals… The kingdom is proud to host and support various athletic and sporting events which not only introduce Saudis to new sports and renowned international athletes but also showcase the kingdom’s landmarks and the welcoming nature of its people to the world,” said Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.

The increased focus on sports comes as the kingdom appears to be backing away from its intention to reduce the centrality of energy exports for its economy.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother, recently ridiculed an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” as “the sequel of the La La Land movie.” The minister went on to ask, “Why should I take (the report) seriously?”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Saudi Arabia intends to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to more than 13 million barrels a day on the assumption that global efforts to replace fossil fuel with cleaner energy sources will spark sharp reductions in US and Russian production.

The kingdom’s operating assumption is that demand in Asia for fossil fuels will continue to rise even if it drops in the West. Other Gulf producers, including the UAE and Qatar, are following a similar strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer an oil country, it’s an energy-producing country … a very competitive energy country. We are low cost in producing oil, low cost in producing gas, and low cost in producing renewables and will definitely be the least-cost producer of hydrogen,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

He appeared to be suggesting that the kingdom’s doubling down on oil was part of strategy that aims to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a player in all conventional and non-conventional aspects of energy. By implication, Prince Abdulaziz was saying that diversification was likely to broaden the kingdom’s energy offering rather than significantly reduce its dependence on energy exports.

“Sports, entertainment, tourism and mining alongside other industries envisioned in Vision 2030 are valuable expansions of the Saudi economy that serve multiple economic and non-economic purposes,” “ said a Saudi analyst. “It’s becoming evident, however, that energy is likely to remain the real name of the game.”

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Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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