What does Mohammed bin Salman’s presence at the G20 Summit tell us?
The G20 Summit is a political event, even though the grouping’s primary focus is intended to be economic. It is where agreements are signed and difficult political issues are resolved. One of the topics of discussion in the lead up to the latest summit in Buenos Aires has been Saudi Arabia, which is in the global spotlight due to the war in Yemen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Under these circumstances, some people wondered whether the Kingdom would send a low-ranking representative. Would Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman feel obliged to avoid the gathering? The anti-Saudi campaign, which has been going on for weeks, has failed to isolate the Kingdom or prevent the crown prince from participating in the summit.
No one can deny that by visiting Argentina, and four other countries on the way there, he has neutralized the designs of Saudi Arabia’s enemies. He has not withdrawn from public life or avoided confronting the challenges he faces.
Despite speculation by many that he would steer clear of Argentina, he did the opposite: He arrived there before the other world leaders, and even completed a program of official visits that was planned before the crisis. He visited the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia on the way to the summit, and will visit more countries on his way back to Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom has moved up a place this year on the list of the world’s largest economies, which form the G20 membership. It is ironic that the country it has displaced is Turkey, which has economically slumped. Saudi participation in the summit follows a series of radical reforms at all legislative and taxation levels, and on the government’s role in the market.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s request to host the 2020 G20 Summit in Riyadh has been approved. This will further anger the Kingdom’s enemies, who tried and failed to deprive it of the right to participate in the Argentina summit. So how can Saudi Arabia be seen as isolated, and how can the crown prince be considered weakened?
The anti-Saudi campaign, which has been going on for weeks, has failed to isolate the Kingdom or prevent the crown prince from participating in the summit.
The summit is supposed to be about the global economy, trade and the marketplace, but most of the G20 leaders’ meetings will focus on political disputes. They include the Ukraine crisis, US accusations of Chinese expansionism, European unhappiness with the American president’s pressure on NATO, and the political and commercial implications of Brexit.
For the crown prince, the main topic will be the Yemen crisis. Everyone agrees that it must be ended, but there is no practical solution to accomplish this goal. As for the crisis over the murder of Khashoggi, there is not much to discuss.
Turkey has made great efforts to politicize the case and serve Qatar’s agenda, while Saudi Arabia has carried out the measures expected of it with regard to bringing the perpetrators to justice. Indeed, it was neither coincidental nor surprising that Qatar’s emir and his father, the country’s former emir, were seen in Turkey in the past few days.
The more difficult and complex case is Yemen. How can Saudi Arabia, at the summit, appease those countries who object to the war or are facing great pressure regarding their relations with the Kingdom due to the conflict? This is a thorny issue, and the UK has an important role to play given that the international envoy assigned to resolve the issue is British.
There has been a fresh breakthrough after the forces of Yemen’s legitimate government besieged the port of Hodeida. They have entered a number of neighborhoods in the coastal city, which is very important to the Houthis as they fund their budget through the imposition and collection of fees at the port, and the looting of merchandise from ships.
Saudi Arabia knows that the countries objecting to the war want it stopped, yet they do not offer an alternative solution. This is also what American officials said a few days ago. What could stop the war? The withdrawal of the Saudi-led coalition forces would have horrific consequences. None of the major world powers is willing to send troops to Yemen to manage the situation on the ground.
So what is the alternative? Practically speaking, there is none, except for rushing the victory of the coalition and returning to a political solution that involves all of Yemen’s political components, including the Houthis. The G20 Summit will offer a very important opportunity for dialogue on the Yemen issue, but it does not have a mandate to make decisions about it.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.