Voices from the Arab press: London courting Riyadh

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world

PROTESTERS WAVE placards opposite Downing Street before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visits Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in London, last week (photo credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
PROTESTERS WAVE placards opposite Downing Street before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visits Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in London, last week
Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, March 4
The state visit of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to the United Kingdom last week did not pass without controversy. Hundreds of protesters greeted him in the streets of London, demonstrating against Riyadh’s military involvement in Yemen, where so many civilians have been killed.
A 32-year-old prince who will one day assume the throne, he has long been viewed as the architect of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive foreign policy in the Gulf, both as regards the campaign in Yemen and the embargo placed on neighboring Qatar. But some have also noted the liberal reforms that the crown prince has implemented in recent years, most significantly the lifting of the ban on women driving and the integration of more females into the workforce.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, both of whom met with the crown prince, went to great lengths to subdue public anger ahead of the visit. Indeed, Johnson, writing for The Times, hailed Muhammad’s social and economic reforms as some of the “most progressive” initiatives ever carried out in the region. May, similarly, described Saudi Arabia as one of Britain’s “oldest and closest” allies in the Middle East.
But the protesters were not so easily convinced. Many of them were, in fact, demonstrating against Johnson and May, whose government continues to provide Riyadh with weapons for its military campaigns. Some international agencies, including the United Nations, described the situation in Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian crises since the end of the Second World War.
But May’s government is not acting out of kindheartedness. We must remember, of course, that Muhammad’s royal welcome is part of a broader British strategy to court the House of Saud ahead of this year’s expected initial public offering by the massive Aramco oil company. Johnson and May want the company listed on the London Stock Exchange, and not in New York, and they are doing whatever they can to entice the Saudis to strengthen bilateral ties. Unfortunately for the protesters, this means that May’s government will continue providing Muhammad with all of the support and backing he needs, regardless of the humanitarian toll.
– Arib al-Antawi
Al Jazeera, Qatar, March 6
Arab dictators have, since the dawn of time, relied on the Palestinian issue to deflect attention away from their own corrupt regimes. Many of them have succumbed to American and Israeli pressure, by choosing to neglect their Palestinian brothers and sisters in exchange for financial support, military assistance or international prestige.
The most recent example of this phenomenon is Arab leaders working to normalize ties with Tel Aviv, while designating legitimate Palestinian resistance factions as “terrorists.”
The Arab stance on Palestine has changed considerably in the past few decades. At first, Arab states called for a fight against Israel in order to liberate Palestine. Later, Arab leaders sought to resolve the Palestinian issue through diplomacy and negotiations. In more recent years, with the rise of Islamist movements like al-Qaeda and Islamic State, many Arab leaders attempted to distance themselves from radical Islam by adopting the American – and thus the Israeli – stance on the Palestinian issue.
At that stage, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt began designating Hamas as a “terrorist organization” and endorsing Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, this is not only immoral but also dangerous. It not only delegitimizes a movement that resists the Israeli occupation but also paves the way for the integration of Israel into the Arab world. It bolsters the American position that the problem in the Middle East is not Israel but, rather, radical Islam, and trivializes alarming developments on the ground, such as the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
In an effort to win over the heart of the American administration, these countries have become advocates of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the region, crushing the last remaining hope for Palestinian statehood. These leaders can talk of liberties and civil rights however much they want. The fact remains clear that they are willing to abandon their allies and forsake their allegiances, as soon as new interests emerge.
– Hasan Abu-Hanina
Al-Hayat, London, March 10
A recent report by the International Energy Agency raises deep uncertainties over the future of the global energy market. The surplus of international oil, which has caused a dramatic plunge in its price, has pushed both OPEC and non-OPEC countries to reduce their exports in recent years. In a desperate effort to block falling prices, Russia and Saudi Arabia recently signed a comprehensive energy agreement limiting the two countries’ respective oil outputs until the end of 2018.
However, just as the agreement was signed, a new and unexpected player emerged in the global energy market – namely, the United States. Today, the US, with its output of roughly 10 million barrels per day, has surpassed the oil production of the Saudis and is closing the gap on Russia. According to several energy experts, it is now possible that the US, together with Canada and Brazil, could satisfy the vast majority of the global demand for oil. This new reality may very well push oil-producing countries to expand their artificial limit on oil exports, in order to manipulate the price of oil.
Moreover, Russia and Saudi Arabia are increasingly at odds over Iran, which could bring an end to their partnership in the future. Signing a deal with Saudi Arabia has allowed Russia to strengthen its hand in the Gulf, while diminishing the role played by the US in the region. However, Russia has also supported Iran and the government of Bashar Assad, much to the dismay of Riyadh. It seems as if the countries are now wedded to each other, working together to block declining oil prices, even while continuing to defy each other in the diplomatic arena.
Such uncertainties can most definitely affect the future prices of oil. For the time being, it remains unclear whether these changes will empower OPEC or, rather, lead to its demise.
– Randa Takya al-Din
Asharq al-Awsat, London, March 10
Will US President Donald Trump succeed where every other American leader has failed? Will he be able to bring both Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and help them reach what has become known as “the deal of the century”?
Truthfully, the chances are low. Dozens of gifted statesmen and mediators have attempted to solve this issue in the past, but to no avail. However, I still wouldn’t rule out Trump’s potential success.
I say this not because I believe in the American president’s superb negotiating skills, but because the international and regional conditions that prevailed for so many decades have changed dramatically in recent years. Arab leaders who so vehemently opposed reaching a solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis – people like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Bashar Assad – have disappeared from the political arena. So have radical socialist organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which once dominated Palestinian politics. Islamist movements, too, are waning, struggling to survive, let alone gain momentum.
Sadly, the Arab public has shifted its attention away from Palestine, focusing instead on the turmoil within their own societies. But the interest in bringing an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people will forever remain a top Arab priority. All that is needed is a reasonable and realistic framework that could be sold to both sides. This could be a plan along the lines of the Clinton Parameters or, alternatively, a mix of previously proposed solutions.
Trump understands the huge opportunity that stands before him. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, together with adviser Jason Greenblatt have ensured that forging this deal stays at the top of the president’s list of priorities. While I remain skeptical that anything will come out of this effort, I am also curious to learn more about Trump’s peace proposal. It may be so crazy that it might just work.
– Abdulrahman al-Rashed