Just as Joe Biden is set to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a US district federal judge sprung on him a thorny legal question: do US interests call for granting sovereign immunity to Mohammed Bin Salman over the murder of the Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi?
The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the MENA region's most significant issues and trends. Today, we focus on Russia’s ties with the Gulf countries, discussing the consequences of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
Of the many seismic political changes in Saudi Arabia in the King Salman era, perhaps none is more surprising than the weakening of the place of the Wahhabi religious creed and establishment. Evidence of the break with this once foundational religious interpretation and political class is now too clear to be denied.
In the Arab capitals of the Gulf, ruling classes are quietly emerging beside rulers, boosted by economic diversification. Power and politics continue, traditionally, to be centralized and personalized. “Dynasticism”, driven by oil revenues, still represents the core of politics in the Gulf. In other words, it’s always a (royal) family affaire with a trend of power concentration in the hands of a single branch of royal families.
In recent years, Gulf countries have adopted national strategies and visions to diversify their economies away from oil.
Saudi and Kuwait ambassadors’ return to Beirut in early April marked an initial rapprochement in Gulf-Lebanese ties after a five-month long diplomatic crisis. Last October, Saudi Arabia – followed by Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – had withdrawn its ambassador after the then Information Minister, George Kordahi, criticised Riyadh-led military interventions in Yemen.
Turkey has significantly recalibrated its foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. After having played a proactive role in the region, for over a year Ankara has gradually softened its assertive foreign policy, as it has grown increasingly aware of the need to defuse tensions, break out of its regional isolation, and mend fences with regional competitors due to international, regional, and domestic shifts.
Yemen’s Houthis attacked Abu Dhabi twice in a week. For the United Arab Emirates (UAE), risk perception has dramatically increased: things will never be the same. The Emirati leadership, a master of strategy, suddenly came to realise how difficult it is to balance national security and regional ambitions. Despite a correction course in foreign policy, the UAE now stands in the eye of the storm. After a decade of assertive military posture in the Middle East, it could be too late for the UAE to avoid backlashes.
The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we focus on the Saudi-Emirates relationship, as Riyadh's and Abu Dhabi's recent disagreements within the OPEC Plus cartel may indicate a possible fault line in one of the region’s most long-lasting alliances.
Saudi Arabia’s rebalanced alliances within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are producing recalibrated power relations in Yemen, too, as the new United Nations Special Envoy — the Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg — has been appointed. In fact, three external factors contemporarily affect Yemen’s peace prospects and war dynamics, which could alter the diplomatic stalemate that paralysed negotiations in the last couple of years, though the mediation outlook remains complicated.