Biden should use visit to rebuild Saudi-US ties, says author Karen Elliott House

Special Journalist and author Karen Elliot House says the Saudi-US relationship must be repaired in the interest of shared security. (AFP/SPA)
Journalist and author Karen Elliot House says the Saudi-US relationship must be repaired in the interest of shared security. (AFP/SPA)
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Updated 16 July 2022

Biden should use visit to rebuild Saudi-US ties, says author Karen Elliott House

Biden should use visit to rebuild Saudi-US ties, says author Karen Elliott House
  • Biden should take note of the massive social transformation underway in the Kingdom, says Karen Elliott House
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former media executive says the US should not take its Saudi allies for granted

NEW YORK CITY: On US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, he should take note of the massive social transformation underway in the Kingdom, according to American journalist and media executive Karen Elliott House.

Author of the 2012 book “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines — and Future,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and former president of Dow Jones International, she has enjoyed a long relationship with the Kingdom, tracing its evolution from the early 1970s to the present day.

“It boggles my mind how much has changed for women and young people,” House told Arab News ahead of Biden’s visit, adding that the Kingdom’s transformation over the past decade alone in terms of individual rights is “staggering.”

“The very best thing President Biden can do for himself and the country, frankly, is take a walk down Riyadh Boulevard — anything that exposes him to what’s really going on in the country,” she said, reflecting on the Kingdom’s economic and social reforms.

“All these men and women and children, relaxed, having a nice time, instead of women sitting in one part of the house and men in another, young people being separated and segregated. They’re sitting together in Starbucks, just like here (in the US), working on their computers and talking.”

Although she is broadly pessimistic about the prospect of the US president changing his negative attitude toward the Kingdom, House hopes Biden will at the very least use the opportunity provided by his meetings with Saudi leaders to recalibrate and rebuild the historic relationship between the two nations.

Biden arrived in the Kingdom on Friday for talks with the Saudi leadership and other Arab leaders. Observers expect the issue of oil production to top the agenda, in light of spiraling global energy prices as a result of the war in Ukraine and the resultant Western embargo on Russian oil and gas.

Saudi Arabia and other oil producers in the Middle East have been reluctant to boost production at Washington’s behest. Biden’s tour of the region is therefore widely viewed as a charm offensive to help mend strained ties with the Kingdom.

“I personally do not expect much to come of it because I believe it is being done for the wrong reasons,” said House.

“Biden is coming for selfish reasons, acting in his own personal interest, trying to improve his sinking standing by doing something to secure oil that will help reduce the price, when his real agenda is not about easing national pain.

“I’m not saying he enjoys America having actual pain but his biggest primary goal is to help himself, not the country. And so it’s going to be, in my view, mostly a propaganda trip, not a policy trip.”




Karen Elliton House is the author of the 2012 book “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines — and Future.” (Supplied)

Despite her doubts about the president’s intentions, House believes it is “incredibly important that the US and Saudi Arabia rebuild security cooperation to contain and deter Iran at a time when Tehran reportedly has enough fissile material for a nuclear device, while talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal (more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) continue to falter.”

She added: “We should be working hard to rebuild a relationship that is absolutely in our interest, because the Iranians are doing very bad things in the region and I believe have every intention of producing a nuclear weapon. And if something transpires there, it will be a potential disaster (not only) for Saudi Arabia but the whole world.

“We have to be concerned about security in the whole world, yes, but in the Middle East and South China Sea in particular, because if we aren’t prepared to cooperate with countries like Saudi Arabia, the younger Saudi generation (of Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman is much more willing to cooperate with Russia and China.

“Their parents, being anti-communists, were much less willing to do so. But it is a different mindset now in Saudi Arabia. We can’t just slap the Saudis around and then expect them to salute when we need them.”

US-Saudi relations were not always this way. After US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz, known in the West as Ibn Saud, on Valentine’s Day 1945 on the American cruiser USS Quincy in the Suez Canal, a close bond developed between their countries.

The two leaders are said to have made a strong impression on one another. Ibn Saud famously said he and FDR were “twins” of a sort; they were both about the same age, heads of state with grave responsibilities, farmers at heart, and stricken with poor health.

Despite their differences over the future of Palestine, the friendly atmosphere during that meeting on the Great Bitter Lake laid the foundations for a bilateral relationship that endured for decades despite conflicts and disasters.

Indeed, the personal relationships between successive US presidents and Saudi monarchs have been a key determinant in setting both the tone and substance of ties between the two countries.




US President Roosevelt speaking with King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia in 1945. (Getty Images)

In the decades immediately following the Second World War, the US and Saudi Arabia were closely allied in their opposition to the spread of communism and their support for stable oil prices and the security of oil fields and maritime shipping routes.

The nations stood shoulder to shoulder in defiance of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and during the war to expel the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991.

Nevertheless, the relationship has faced many challenges along the way. It was seriously strained during the 1973 oil embargo, and again in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

“At those times the American public was very aware of Saudi Arabia, which it isn’t at most times, and angry,” said House. “But on both of those occasions the US government worked very hard, and quietly, to keep the relationship in as good a shape as possible despite public anger. And of course, that is not the case now.”

During his 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state,” in Washington and internationally, to cut off support for the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen’s war against the Iran-backed Houthis.

He also severed personal links with the Saudi heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed, following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Oct. 2, 2018, inside the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. In Sept. 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution passed the final sentences on eight people convicted of the murder; five of them were jailed for 20 years, one for 10 years and two for seven years.

“President Biden himself has personally led the cheering squad against Saudi Arabia, when I don’t think the public is as disturbed by Saudi Arabia as the president is,” said House.

“That’s the big difference, to me, in the ups and downs in the past. Those were two big downs (the oil embargo and 9/11). But this big down is much worse and it is not led by something Saudi Arabia allegedly did, but something the president chooses to focus on and accuse mostly the crown prince of, and then tar the whole country.”




The author surrounded by an extended family of Saudis in the Faifa mountains of Jizan, a remote Saudi province bordering Yemen. (Supplied/Karen Elliot House Blog)

She views Biden’s snubbing of the crown prince as an insult to all Saudis.

“If the Saudi king refused to speak to President Biden, I think it would at some level insult many Americans,” she said. “In the reverse, it is even bigger because (Saudi Arabia) identifies with its leadership more than Americans do.

“So I think it has been insulting to the Saudi people that the president won’t speak to the crown prince, who day-to-day runs the country.”

House believes Biden has been keen to rebuke Saudi Arabia as a means of endearing himself to progressive members of Congress.

“I personally think it is all a part of his efforts now to appeal to progressives, the people who are deeply anti-Saudi,” she said.

“He is courting them more than reflecting his own innate or acquired views. It’s like a lot of other stuff he is doing. He’s been vastly more progressive and pro-abortion than he ever was as a senator or as vice president.”

House is well positioned to talk about the changing mindsets in Saudi Arabia, having closely monitored the nation’s evolution during frequent visits to the Kingdom. In particular, she views King Salman’s decision to bring the crown prince to the forefront of the nation’s affairs as an era-defining moment that Biden would be wise to recognize.

Saudi Arabia “was at risk of winding up like the old Soviet Union, with one elderly, infirm leader after another and then just kind of petering out because the old brothers were getting older and older, and how would they bring themselves to make the change without running out the line?” said House.

“And the great news is that King Salman did that. He brought in a young leader. And whatever people think of this young leader, he is very confident, very decisive, he has a vision and, most importantly, the time to execute it. And that’s what previous Saudi leaders, even King Abdullah, didn’t have.”

 

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Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs meets with Egypt’s Minister of Endowments 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs meets with Egypt’s Minister of Endowments 
Updated 25 September 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs meets with Egypt’s Minister of Endowments 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs meets with Egypt’s Minister of Endowments 
  • The two officials met on the sidelines of the 33rd International Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance Sheikh Dr. Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh met with Egypt’s Minister of Endowments Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar Jumaa on Saturday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. 

The two officials met on the sidelines of the 33rd International Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs currently being held in Egypt, in the presence of Saudi Ambassador to the Arab Republic of Egypt Osama bin Ahmed Nuqali.

During the meeting, the two sides reviewed a number of issues of common interest in the Islamic field, serving Islamic work in accordance with the approach of moderation, combating hate speech, and confronting extremism, according to SPA. 

The Egyptian minister said that the Kingdom has been the pioneer of the Islamic world and its efforts in serving the Two Holy Mosques are appreciated by Muslims all over the world, SPA reported. 

He also highlighted the distinction of the Kingdom’s participation in the conference, which he described as a scientific and intellectual addition.


Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women
Updated 24 September 2022

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women

Community of Adidas Runners bids to empower Riyadh women
  • The group brings together people from various walks of life and uniting them with the goal of becoming a better version of themselves

RIYADH: As the sounds of Fajr (early morning) prayers are heard in Riyadh, the sun still submissive to the night sky, you will find a group of women around Wadi Hanifa every Wednesday, pounding a path for anywhere between 4 and 8 km.

Adidas Runners is an international community of joggers and runners that brings together people from various walks of life, uniting them with the goal of becoming a better version of themselves.

Their women’s-only group creates a safe space for individuals to empower each other to achieve their aspirations.

The runners see the 4 a.m. wake-up call as a small price to pay for the experience, given the health benefits and friendships it brings them.

Asma Azhari, 31, has never considered herself the consistent athletic type. From mindful yoga to swimming sessions and breezy bike rides, she wanted to try it all and never committed to just one discipline. Only in June 2021 did she discover the Adidas Runners community.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Asma Azhari, 31, has never considered herself the consistent athletic type. From mindful yoga to swimming sessions and breezy bike rides, she wanted to try it all and never committed to just one discipline. Only in June 2021 did she discover the Adidas Runners community. The thought of a women’s-only running club intrigued her, but the first steps toward commitment were discouraging.

• Another member, Hadeel Ashour, told Arab News: ‘I don’t think that if I started off running on my own in public, I would be as motivated and persistent in the sport as I am today.’ Ashour, 23, had been physically active for years, but a year on from discovering Adidas Runners, she has found that her training helps to complement her participation in CrossFit (interval training) and cycling.

• Club member Nourah Alshehri, 38, told Arab News: ‘I’m ecstatic for all the wonderful positive transformations in my country and the justice that women have obtained in various fields. I am very fortunate to have experienced fair regulations and laws that guarantee freedom for everyone without harming anyone or anything.’

The thought of a women’s-only running club intrigued her, but the first steps toward commitment were discouraging.

“I felt like dying,” she said. “It was my first run and I thought, ‘I am not cut out for this sport.’ But after a few months I tried again, and committed even though it was way out of my comfort zone. And here I am now, a runner,” she told Arab News.

While she began her journey barely completing the 4K run, Azhari is now training for her first 21K trail race. She aims to participate in a full international marathon next year.

What kept her coming back every week was the community surrounding the running group. She said: “The people, the spirit, the energy, the commitment that everybody shows every single morning before sunrise, and of course the love and support everyone is getting, all of these aspects helped to get me into running. I’m loving it.”

On a personal level, running has benefited her by laying the groundwork for discipline in many aspects of her life, including work and family. It has also done much for her physical and mental health. “Sports should be accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age and ethnicity,” she said.

Another member, Hadeel Ashour, told Arab News: “I don’t think that if I started off running on my own in public, I would be as motivated and persistent in the sport as I am today.”

Ashour, 23, had been physically active for years, but a year on from discovering Adidas Runners, she has found that her training helps to complement her participation in CrossFit (interval training) and cycling.

She said: “I generally love outdoor sports and activities that give me a sense of community. Running for me was a beautiful combination of both these things.”

While the health benefits of running are plenty, including better sleep and eating habits, Ashour emphasized the mental profits of the exercise.

For her, running has helped cope with anxiety, build patience and create consistency in many aspects of her life.

She added: “I started running in a stage of my life when I was most vulnerable and unconfident. Running has liberated me from these negative feelings and restored my confidence in myself.”

The group is working toward creating the first-ever women’s training program to run a 5K, starting on Oct. 22 and free to all women in Riyadh.

Ashour is now planning to take part in her first Riyadh 10K, but has set her sights even higher.

She said: “My goal now is training to run the 20K distance in the Tuwaiq Hope Trail Race in November. In the far future, I hope to run full marathons and ultra-marathons both locally and internationally, and aid in expanding the community in Riyadh.”

Like Azhari, Ashour found a home within the running community, which changed her perception of women running in public.

She added: “I had the pleasure to meet strong and influential fellow runners who never failed to push me forward and explore my limits.

“Though the number of women runners is not that big, the presence and persistence of the few makes a big difference. We women are unstoppable when we run together.”

Club member Nourah Alshehri, 38, told Arab News: “I’m ecstatic for all the wonderful positive transformations in my country and the justice that women have obtained in various fields.

“I am very fortunate to have experienced fair regulations and laws that guarantee freedom for everyone without harming anyone or anything."

 The first-ever women’s-only race will take place on Dec. 24 in pursuit of creating a safe and healthy running culture for all in Riyadh.

 


Global Islamic Refugee Fund launched with $100m deposit

KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner sign an a cooperation agreement. (SPA)
KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner sign an a cooperation agreement. (SPA)
Updated 24 September 2022

Global Islamic Refugee Fund launched with $100m deposit

KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner sign an a cooperation agreement. (SPA)
  • The fund will help millions of refugees and displaced persons and their host communities around the world

NEW YORK: Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, recently represented the Kingdom at the launch ceremony of the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees.

The fund is supported by UNHCR and the Islamic Development Bank’s Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, with an initial amount of $100 million, on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In his speech, Al-Rabeeah expressed his happiness about the fruitful partnership between UNHCR and IDB to help millions of people around the world who are forcibly displaced, by offering constant support for refugees and displaced persons and their host communities.

HIGHLIGHT

The Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development has donated $50 million to the endowment account, while the UNHCR has donated $50 million to the nonendowment account, as an initial capital to launch this initiative with $100 million. The fund also aims to raise additional capital of $400 million as a minimum target by allowing donations from people wishing to contribute.

He noted the importance of strengthening collective action and partnership to better respond and develop innovative, sustainable and comprehensive solutions, in line with the 17th sustainable development goal.

Al-Rabeeah said that the Kingdom was optimistic about UNHCR and IDB’s partnership, which embodies the values of humanity, justice and equality in developing innovative solutions for the refugee crisis.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Amid an increasing number of crises around the world, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation region accommodates the largest number of refugees in the world; we are all aware and fulfill our responsibility by providing all the refugees and displaced people’s needs to lead a safe, healthy and decent life.”

He said that the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees “would help us achieve this humanitarian objective, and given the significant economic challenges the world is facing and due to the limited donor base, this is the best time to present innovative ways to increase the funding modalities.”

Al-Rabeeah said that Islam encourages charitable work, that zakat is the duty of all Muslims who are capable of donating, and that this was the best time to establish the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees. He indicated that the success of this fund relies on the participation of authorized partners and project-based funding, with a transparent monitoring process.

Addressing the needs of refugees and displaced people in the OIC region is an example of zakat and charitable funding, he said, wishing the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees success.

The Global Islamic Fund for Refugees is to be a financing tool for refugees, in compliance with the provisions and principles of Islamic Shariah.

This fund consists of an endowment and nonendowment account to receive and invest donations, in accordance with Islamic financing’s principles. The revenue is deposited in a trust account to fund the response programs for refugees, displaced people and their host communities in the IDB member states.

The Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development has donated $50 million to the endowment account, while the UNHCR has donated $50 million to the nonendowment account, as an initial capital to launch this initiative with $100 million.

The fund also aims to raise additional capital of $400 million as a minimum target by allowing donations from people wishing to contribute.

 


Twitter replaces ‘Like’ emoji with Saudi flag on 92nd National Day

Photo/Saudi Press Agency
Photo/Saudi Press Agency
Updated 25 September 2022

Twitter replaces ‘Like’ emoji with Saudi flag on 92nd National Day

Photo/Saudi Press Agency
  • To mark the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day, the GEA launched the largest program in the history of the country’s national day celebrations

RIYADH: The chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, said on Friday that social networking site Twitter had replaced its “Like” emoji with the flag of Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day — the first time it has done so for a country’s National Day.

Al-Sheikh called on those wishing to express their love and pride for Saudi Arabia to use the hashtag #Hey_Lana_Dar92.

HIGHLIGHT

The chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, called on those wishing to express their love and pride for Saudi Arabia to use the hashtag #Hey_Lana_Dar92.

To mark the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day, the GEA launched the largest program in the history of the country’s national day celebrations.

Saudis and expatriates alike marked the occasion of Saudi Arabia’s National Day with music, singing, dancing, a naval parade in Jeddah and a family carnival in Riyadh.

The GEA’s program for the celebrations includes hundreds of events, shows and recreational activities across the Kingdom, all under the theme “Hey Lana Dar.”

 


Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah

Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah

Saudi crown prince meets Turkish officials in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday received the Turkish presidential spokesman, Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, and Turkish Minister of Treasury and Finance Nureddin Nebati at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah.
Kalin conveyed greetings from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to King Salman and the crown prince.
During the meeting, they reviewed aspects of bilateral relations between the two countries and ways of developing them in various fields, in addition to discussing cooperation on a number of issues of common interest.