Ahead of Biden summit, MBS tours Egypt, Jordan, Turkey

Many in the Hashemite Kingdom hope the Saudi crown prince’s visit will end a period of cold relations and help to improve the economic situation.

  Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 40th Summit in Riyadh (photo credit: Saudi Royal Court/Reuters)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 40th Summit in Riyadh
(photo credit: Saudi Royal Court/Reuters)

The maverick crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, also known by the initials MbS, is embarking on a three-country tour aimed at coordinating the narrative of key Middle East states during US President Joe Biden’s upcoming summit with regional leaders.

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The summit will take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in mid-July, and be attended by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) as well as King Abdullah of Jordan, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Media Line that the prince’s regional tour is an effort to demonstrate before the Biden visit that he is far from isolated and that Saudi Arabia is a key regional player.

“MbS is only traveling where he’s assured a warm reception with Turkey as the most important stop, indicating that as far as [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is concerned the [Jamal] Khashoggi file is now closed,” Miller says.

SAUDI ARABIAN Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, in January.  (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/REUTERS)SAUDI ARABIAN Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, in January. (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/REUTERS)

In Jordan, the visit has gained importance because of the tension between Jordan and Saudi Arabia on topics such as the Hashemite custodianship of holy places in Jerusalem, and the “mutiny case” where Prince Hamzah, the half-brother of King Abdullah, was arrested in April 2021 after allegations he engaged in a plot aimed at destabilizing the king’s rule. The affair included media reports about the accused and Gulf countries, including the involvement of Bassem Awadallah, a former head of the Jordanian Royal Court who worked as an adviser to MbS.

Miller argues that given the chronic tensions with King Abdullah over reported Saudi involvement in the alleged coup plot involving Prince Hamzah, a visit to Amman will “demonstrate that Saudi-Jordanian tensions have at least been papered over. Saudi funding for Jordan’s economic development is also on the table.”

Aaron Magid, a US-based analyst and the host of the On Jordan podcast, also thinks that the Hamzah issue will be part of the private discussion but will not dominate the visit.

“The 2021 Prince Hamzeh sedition affair looms large over this week’s meeting between King Abdullah and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” he said. “While the Saudi government’s exact role in the affair remains ambiguous, King Abdullah would likely be interested in a personal commitment from MbS not to intervene in internal Jordanian politics, especially within the royal family going forward.

“A tangible way for MbS to strengthen ties with Jordan would be to boost economic aid to the cash-strapped Amman but without any conditions attached for the Hashemite Kingdom,” Magid said.

Regional and royal family issues aside, Jordan has many hot issues on its plate, including the Syrian refugee humanitarian issue, the drug problem at the border, and a serious economic crisis with high unemployment, especially among the youth.

Many in Jordan are hoping the visit will end a period of cold relations and help to improve the difficult economic situation. Saudi Arabia, which was a major supporter of the Jordanian treasury, has stopped doling out money without strings attached.

Saudi Arabia last pledged to support Jordan’s general budget at the 2018 Mecca Summit, in the form of a $250 million grant to be transferred in five annual installments of $50 million.

Samar Muhareb, CEO of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, a Jordanian think tank, told The Media Line the visit comes at a unique time for Jordan.

“After the pandemic, we got inflation and Jordanians are optimistic that this visit could offer a relief from the economic problems,” she says.

Muhareb is worried about high expectations, but she anticipates that many things will change locally and regionally with the birth of a coalition that includes Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt.

The US and Israel, of course, have other plans, she argued. “But it is not clear where Saudi Arabia is moving on Israel or if Jordan will be the bridge for Saudi to Israel.”

 SAUDI CROWN Prince  Mohammed bin Salman attends  a session of the Shura Council  in Riyadh, 2019. Rosenberg met  personally with MBS.   (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) SAUDI CROWN Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, 2019. Rosenberg met personally with MBS. (credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Tagreed Odeh, a Jordanian political scientist, told the Media Line the crown prince’s visit aims at preempting the summit that Biden will hold with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia.

Relations with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have always been strategic for Jordan, but to ensure the success of this relationship, a lot of effort and agreements are needed on the security and economic fronts,” Odeh says, adding that the visit comes at a sensitive time as the area is suffering from continuous regional wars as well as the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden also has several hot issues on his plate including the Yemen cease-fire, regional economic and security cooperation, and guaranteeing the world supply of energy, especially in light of the war in Ukraine. All these issues are in addition to the major problem of Iran, whose relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been strained of late.

Many argue that the US president’s principal goal is to encourage the oil-producing Gulf countries and Iraq to increase production, in a move he hopes will lower gasoline prices in America in the crucial months before the midterm elections on November 8.