Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia say they are often vulnerable to extortion from their sponsors, who can demand a portion of their salaries in order to continue working legally after many arrive heavily indebted from their home countries.
Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it will ease key restrictions on millions of foreign workers, under reforms to its labour policy that is blamed for widespread abuses and exploitation.
Human rights groups have repeatedly called on the kingdom to abolish its “kafala” sponsorship system, branded by critics as a modern form of slavery that binds workers to their Saudi employers.
The Saudi human resources and social development ministry said that from March 14, expatriates will no longer need their employers’ authorisation to change jobs, travel or leave Saudi Arabia, which is home to some 10 million foreigners.
“This initiative will improve and increase the efficiency of the work environment,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The reforms, if fully implemented, could have a big impact on the Saudi labour market and the lives of blue-collar foreign workers who lack effective recourse against overcrowded housing and exploitative employers.
Sattam Alharbi, a deputy minister at the ministry, said the changes will abolish “runaway” reports against foreign workers who do not report for duty, which effectively makes criminals at risk of being jailed and deported.
“These changes are not small changes — it’s huge,” Alharbi told Bloomberg News in an interview on Wednesday.
“We aim to achieve more inclusion for Saudis, attract talent, improve the working conditions, make Saudi Arabia’s labour market more dynamic and productive.”
However, he said the new regulations will not apply to the country’s 3.7 million domestic workers, a highly vulnerable category of employees who are governed by separate regulations which he said are also under review.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) only last week said the kingdom had one of the most restrictive kafala systems in the Gulf, which it said facilitates “abuse and exploitation including forced labour, trafficking, and slavery-like conditions”.
“Saudi Arabia’s wealth and economy has been built on the backs of millions of migrant workers and it is time for deep-rooted change to accord them the legal protection and guarantees for their rights that they deserve,” it said.
– Vulnerable to exploitation -The kafala system persists even after Saudi media reported in February that the government would “soon” abolish it.
Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at HRW, said the announced reforms are significant but fall short of completely dismantling the system, with employers still able to cancel workers’ residency at any time.
“This can mean that workers can still face abuse and exploitation as employers hold this power over them,” she told AFP.
After the disruption that came with the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners say potentially hundreds of thousands of “illegal” workers — many of whom have become undocumented through no fault of their own — remain stranded in Saudi Arabia.
Activists have asked the kingdom to offer an amnesty to migrant workers who are trapped by their debts and not allowed to work to pay them off — a predicament that risks fuelling the pandemic.
“The Saudi authorities need to fully abolish the kafala system to ensure that all migrant workers are able to enter, reside and leave the country without being dependent on a single employer or sponsor,” Begum said.
Neighbouring Qatar is also scrapping key aspects of its labour rules, including the requirement for some workers to obtain their employer’s permission to change jobs and exit permits to leave the country.
It has passed a series of reforms since being selected to host the 2022 World Cup, setting in motion a vast construction programme employing foreign workers that has come under constant fire.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia resumed allowing citizens and residents to perform the Umrah at Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, after a seven-month pause due to coronavirus concerns.
Saudi Arabia is allowing its citizens and residents inside the kingdom to perform daily prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, for the first time in seven months.
Sunday also marked the start of the second phase of the gradual return of citizens and residents to performing the Umrah – an Islamic pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina undertaken any time of the year – expanding the capacity to 75 percent.
With the start of phase one on October 4, Saudi Arabia had allowed 6,000 citizens and residents of the kingdom to perform Umrah daily, representing 30 percent of a revised maximum capacity of 20,000 pilgrims allowed into the Grand Mosque every day under new precautionary health measures.
Citizens and residents will be allowed to perform daily prayers at the Grand Mosque for the first time in seven months.
Starting November 1, the kingdom will allow visitors from specific countries deemed safe to perform Umrah at 100 percent of the revised capacity, which would remain in place until the danger posed by the coronavirus had passed, Saudi news agency SPA reported last month.
Trump bragged to author Bob Woodward that he protected Saudi crown prince after 2018 assassination of Khashoggi.
President Donald Trump boasted that he protected Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book says, according to a new report.
Trump bragged that he protected the Saudi crown prince from consequences in the United States after the assassination of Khashoggi in October 2018, the news outlet Business Insider reported on Thursday.
“I saved his a**,” President Trump said about the US outcry about Khashoggi’s killing, according to Business Insider, quoting from a copy of Woodward’s book.
“I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop,” Trump said.
An opinion columnist for the Washington Post newspaper who was living in the US, Khashoggi had travelled to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a licence for his upcoming marriage to fiancee Hatice Cengiz. He was 59 at the time of his murder inside the consulate.
The president told Woodward he did not believe that MBS had ordered Khashoggi’s murder, although US and other foreign intelligence services have reportedly concluded that MBS directed the killing.
After Khashoggi’s death set off outrage among US legislators from both parties, Trump bypassed Congress to sell roughly $8bn in precision-guided missiles and other high-tech weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Trump vetoed three resolutions passed by Congress rebuking him for the sale and blocked a War Powers Act resolution to end US military support for the UAE-and-Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Woodward’s upcoming book, Rage, is to be released on September 15.
Woodward conducted 18 interviews with the president for the book. Audio recordings of Trump’s remarks to Woodward released on Wednesday reignited a political controversy in the US about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Woodward wrote that Trump called him on January 22 shortly after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. During the conversation, Woodward pressed the president about Khashoggi’s gruesome murder, according to Business Insider.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents while his fiancee waited for him outside the consulate building.
A Saudi consulate worker in Istanbul told a Turkish court on July 3 he was asked to light an oven less than an hour after Khashoggi entered the building.
Zeki Demir, a local technician who worked for the consulate, gave evidence on the first day of the Turkish trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials for Khashoggi’s killing.
“There were five to six people there … They asked me to light up the tandoor [oven]. There was an air of panic,” said Demir.
On Monday, a Saudi Arabian court overturned five death sentences for the killing of Khashoggi.
Saudi media report defendants handed between seven and 20 years in prison over the journalist’s murder in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia sentenced eight people charged in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, halting the death sentence for five of the men.
A court handed 20-year sentences to five people charged in the murder case, and three others were sentenced to between seven to 10 years, state media reported on Monday. The eight convicted were not identified.
“Five of the convicts were given 20 years in prison and another three were jailed for 7-10 years,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing the public prosecution service.
The final court verdict comes after Khashoggi’s sons said in May they had “pardoned” the killers – meaning they would not receive death sentences – and the verdicts confirmed the five previously condemned men would not be executed.
Khashoggi went missing on October 2, 2018, while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities later revealed he was murdered inside the consulate by a Saudi hit squad.
Khashoggi’s body, believed to have been dismembered, has not been found.
Khalil Jahshan, from the Arab Center in Washington, DC, noted the prosecutor’s office said the announcement was final and “closes the case forever”.
“Most importantly, where is the body of Jamal Khashoggi? With these sentences, I assume they have found out what happened to his body,” Jahshan, a family friend, told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media.
“The whole verdict seems to me to have been manipulated. According to legal practice in Saudi Arabia, the family has a right to commute any sentence, and the family has issued such a declaration – most probably under duress. I don’t think it was done freely, knowing the family.”
‘Credible evidence’ A 59-year-old Washington Post columnist, Khashoggi wrote critically of the Saudi government.
Questions remain over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) role in ordering the killing, with several western intelligence agencies alluding he had knowledge of the operation beforehand.
The Saudi government called the assassination a “rogue operation” after repeatedly denying any involvement for weeks.
Agnes Callamard – the United Nations’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – also found “credible evidence” that Prince Mohammedand other senior Saudi officials were liable for the killing in an investigative report published in June 2019.
Istanbul prosecutor indicts Saudi suspects for Khashoggi killing
Turkey trial The assassination of Khashoggi – a US resident – prompted a worldwide backlash against Saudi Arabia and caused lasting damage to MBS’s image in the international arena.
Ankara’s ties with Riyadh came under intense strain after the journalist’s killing as he was an acquaintance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In March, Turkish prosecutors indicted 20 Saudi nationals over Khashoggi’s murder, including two former senior aides to Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
According to the indictment, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri is accused of establishing a hit team and planning the murder.
Saud al-Qahtani, a former royal court and media adviser, is accused of instigating and leading the operation by giving orders to the hit team. Other suspects are mainly Saudi military and intelligence officers who allegedly took part.
King Salman spoke to Donald Trump on phone following UAE’s decision to normalise ties with Israel in US-brokered deal.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz told United States President Donald Trump that the Gulf country wanted to see a fair and permanent solution for the Palestinians, which was the starting point for its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the kingdom’s state news agency reported on Monday.
The two men spoke by phone following a US-brokered accord last month under which the United Arab Emirates agreed to become the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to normalise ties with Israel.
King Salman told Trump that he appreciated US efforts to support peace and that Saudi Arabia wanted to see a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue based on its Arab Peace Initiative.
Under the proposal, Arab nations have offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not recognise Israel.
A history of Arab-Israeli normalisation However, this month the kingdom said it would allow flights between UAE and Israel, including by Israeli aircraft, to use its airspace.
During the call, Trump told King Salman that he welcomed that decision, and that the two also discussed regional security, a White House spokesman said.
Palestinian issue Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also a White House adviser, has said he hopes another Arab country normalises ties with within months.
No other Arab state has said so far it is considering following the UAE. Egypt and Jordan normalised ties decades ago.
King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Kushner discussed the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations and reach a lasting peace after Kushner visited the UAE last month.
The UAE-Israel deal was met by overwhelming opposition among Palestinians who have condemned the move as a “stab in the back”.
On Sunday, leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas group met to discuss the US push for diplomatic normalisation, the movement said.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniya and Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah movement, stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel
Getting US citizens released from Saudi jails would be much easier to accomplish than nomralising Saudi-Israeli ties.
White House adviser Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia this week and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The two men have developed a close bond over hours of private chats, sharing their grand visions for the region. The purpose of this trip was reportedly to discuss a normalisation of ties deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, similar to the one the UAE concluded, dubbed the “Abraham Accord”.
If Saudi government statements are to be believed, it is unlikely he will succeed in that mission in the near term. But Kushner can use his continuing dialogue with MBS to do some good. He should leverage his close ties to the crown prince to gain the freedom of Saudi political prisoners, including US-Saudi dual nationals Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim. Saudi Arabia has detained the two Americans without charge since April 2019.
Both al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim are US-born citizens, natives of Virginia and Washington, respectively. They were living in Saudi Arabia when they invoked the ire of Saudi authorities for engaging in what passes as normal political discussion in much of the rest of the world. Al-Ibrahim is a co-author of a book on the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. Al-Haidar is a journalist, whose now-deleted YouTube show, That’s the Point, featured leading Saudi intellectuals and reformers.
Al-Haidar’s real crime might well have been just being the son of Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at King Saud University and prominent feminist whom Saudi authorities are prosecuting for her past activism to end the driving ban on women. Saudi state security officials arrested Al-Haidar just a few days after they released his mother on bail.
Our sources in Saudi say that the Specialized Criminal Court for State Security, the Saudis’ own version of the star chamber, has finally decided to charge the two men under the terrorism law, based on their comments and tweets, for which they face up to 30 years in prison. Like almost all proceedings in the Special Criminal Court, the trials of the two men will be held in secret.
Given US President Donald Trump’s dire need for foreign policy victories to showcase ahead of the November elections, getting al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim released and bringing them home to the US would be a popular move with both Republican and Democrat voters.
The Saudi crown prince could show the Saudi justice system is working by acquitting the men or giving them light sentences for time served, before allowing Kushner to claim credit for their release. It would be MBS’s gift to the Trump administration, which could use the release to burnish the image of President Trump as the protector of American citizens unjustly imprisoned abroad – an image portrayed in a polished seven-minute video clip presented during the Republican Convention at the end of August.
It is worth noting that MBS is indebted to President Trump and Kushner. The crown prince was isolated and reeling after the savage murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Western democracies spoke in unison, condemning the murder and demanding accountability. Many followed up with action, imposing travel bans, sanctions and suspensions of arms exports.
At MBS’s low point, the Trump administration and Special Adviser Kushner rode to the rescue, providing a crucial lifeline. Jared Kushner reportedly became MBS’s chief champion in the White House, as well as an informal adviser to the crown prince on damage control. Eight months after Khashoggi’s murder, Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fast-tracked the arms shipments to avoid traditional congressional reporting requirements. As far as the Trump administration was concerned, it would be business as usual between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The rest of the world took notice.
Apart from al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim, many other prominent Saudi activists and intellectuals are languishing in jail, including Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been whipped, electrocuted and waterboarded for advocating women’s rights; Salman Al-Awdah, a prominent Muslim scholar who called for democratic reforms and faces the death penalty and the father of one of the authors; Nouf Abdulaziz, a blogger and activist who has been tortured and sexually harassed in jail; Fadel al-Manasif, a Shia activist and writer serving a 15-year sentence for peaceful activism; and Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer also serving a 15-year sentence.
The list sadly goes on. For now, it is enough for senior adviser Kushner to secure the release of the two Americans and seek freedom for this small cross-section of Saudi political prisoners. It would not erase the unsavoury taint of Kushner’s friendship with MBS, but it would be big news, deservedly so. A US-brokered release of American and Saudi political prisoners would also provide a signal to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other autocratic allies in the region, that the Trump administration, despite its alarming violations of human rights at home, might one day focus its attention on their own cell blocks of political prisoners.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect NRM’s editorial stance.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Michael Eisner is General Counsel of Democracy for the Arab World Now and former State Department Attorney-Adviser.
Abdullah Alaoudh is Director of Research for the Gulf Region at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). Tweet: @aalodah
Royal decree refers Prince Fahd, his son and four military officers to the anti-graft watchdog for investigation.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has sacked two royals over corruption allegations and referred them to the anti-graft watchdog for an investigation, according to state media.
In a royal decree issued early on Tuesday, King Salman removed Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as commander of joint forces in the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, and relieved his son Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd of his post as deputy governor of al-Jouf region.
The decision was based on a missive from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to Nazaha, the anti-corruption committee, to investigate “suspicious financial transactions at the defence ministry”.
Four other military officers were also placed under investigation.
The announcement marks the latest government crackdown on what officials say is endemic corruption in the kingdom.
MBS, after becoming heir to the throne in 2017 in a palace coup, launched an anti-corruption campaign that saw scores of royals, ministers and businessmen detained in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Most were released after reaching undisclosed settlements with the state.
While the crown prince has made fighting corruption a pillar of his reforms, critics say he is moving to sideline rivals to his eventual succession to the throne, take control of the country’s security apparatus and crack down on dissent.
Authorities wound down the Ritz campaign after 15 months but said the government would continue to go after graft by state employees.
In March, authorities arrested nearly 300 government officials, including military and security officers, on charges involving bribery and exploiting public office. Human Rights Watch voiced alarm over the arrests, warning of possible “unfair legal proceedings” in an opaque judicial system.
The crackdown coincided with the arrest of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a brother of King Salman, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was previously crown prince.
Family members of Saad al-Jabri, a former top intelligence agent and aide to bin Nayef, have also been swept up in the campaign. Al-Jabri, who lives in exile in Canada, recently filed a lawsuit in the United States accusing MBS of sending a hit squad in 2018 to assassinate him.
Prince Fahd, the royal sacked on Tuesday, was commander of the Royal Saudi Ground Forces, paratroopers units and special forces before he became commander of joint forces in the coalition, according to Saudi daily Arab News.
His father was a former deputy minister of defence.
The king’s decree said the crown prince designated Lieutenant General Mutlaq bin Salim bin Mutlaq al-Azima to replace Prince Fahd.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in Sanaa. The conflict, seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years.
MBS is prepared to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran gets them. But could he end up making the kingdom a nuclear pawn?
When countries start dabbling in nuclear energy, eyebrows raise. It’s understandable. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons while allowing countries to pursue civilian nuclear programmes has proven a tough and sometimes unsuccessful balancing act for the global community.
So when atom-splitting initiatives surface in a region with a history of nuclear secrecy and where whacking missiles into one’s enemies is relatively common, it is not just eyebrows that are hoisted, but red flags.
Right now, warning banners are waving above the Arabian Peninsula, where the United Arab Emirates has loaded fuel rods into the first of four reactors at Barakah – the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant.
Roughly 388 miles west, Saudi Arabia is constructing its first research reactor at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.
The UAE has agreed not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel. It has also signed up to enhanced non-proliferation protocols and even secured a coveted 123 Agreement with the United States that allows for the bilateral sharing of civilian nuclear components, materials and know-how.
But that has not placated some nuclear energy veterans who question why the Emirates has pushed ahead with nuclear fission to generate electricity when there are far safer, far cheaper renewable options more befitting its sunny climate.
Like the UAE, Saudi Arabia insists its nuclear ambitions extend no further than civilian energy projects. But unlike its neighbour and regional ally, Riyadh has not officially sworn off developing nuclear weapons.
The kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), has publicly declared his intention to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran gets them first.
The spectre of the Saudi-Iran Cold War escalating into a nuclear arms race is not beyond the realm of possibility. There are growing concerns over the nuclearisation of the Arabian Peninsula and where it could lead the Gulf and the Middle East – a volatile region that experts warn could be opening itself up to superpower proxy fights on a nuclear scale.
The economic case against nuclear Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions date back to at least 2006, when the kingdom started exploring nuclear power options as part of a joint programme with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
More recently, the kingdom laced its nuclear plans into MBS’s “Vision 2030” blueprint to diversify the country’s economy away from oil.
Nuclear energy, the kingdom argues, would allow it to export crude it currently consumes for domestic energy needs, generating more income for state coffers while developing a new high-tech industry to create jobs for its youthful workforce.
But if a bountiful economic harvest is the goal, nuclear energy is a poor industry to seed compared to renewables like solar and wind.
“Every state has the right to determine its energy mix. The problem is this: nuclear costs are enormous,” Paul Dorfman, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) enewables are maybe between one-fifth and one-seventh the cost of nuclear.”
Utility-scale, average unsubsidised lifetime costs for solar photovoltaic were around $40 per megawatt hour (MWh) in 2019, compared to $155 per MWh for nuclear energy, according to an analysis by financial advisory and asset manager Lazard.
“There are no economic or energy policy or industrial reasons to build a nuclear power plant,” Mycle Schneider, convening lead author and the publisher of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media). “If countries decide to build a nuclear power plant anyway, then we have to discuss other issues that are actually the drivers for those projects.”
The Saudis have invited companies to bid on building two power reactors, but to date have not awarded a contract. While those plans remain on the drawing board, the kingdom is pressing ahead with construction on its first research reactor.
And there are troubling signs surrounding the project.
No IAEA monitoring The Saudis announced in early 2018 that they had broken ground on a small research reactor that would be operational by the end of 2019.
Like most nuclear projects, Riyadh’s has fallen behind schedule. But there is strong evidence that the Saudis are pressing ahead with renewed vigor.
Noble Reporters Media gathered that satellite photos taken in March and May of this year revealed that the Saudis have built a roof over the reactor – a development that is alarming nuclear experts because the Saudis have not yet invited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor the site and inspect the reactor’s design.
“What it does tend to infer is problematic,” said Dorfman. “Key to IAEA surveillance and regulations is signing up to non-proliferation treaties. In other words, questions of enrichment and how you deal with substances that flow out of nuclear reactors in terms of future weaponisation.”
Saudi has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which obligates it to have a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. But those agreements do not allow IAEA inspectors to come sniffing around whenever they like on short notice.
That level of access is only granted when a country signs an Additional Protocol with the IAEA – something the UAE has done, but which the Saudis have not.
Nor is Riyadh obligated to make this move, because the Saudis are currently operating under a Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) that exempts states with nuclear ambitions from IAEA inspections.
The presumption is that the countries operating under the SQP do not have enough nuclear material to warrant that level of intrusiveness. But experts say the Saudis will not be able to hide behind the small quantities’ fig leaf once they switch on the reactor.
“It will have more than a small quantity of material, maybe not a large one, but more than the limit under this [SQP] agreement,” Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media). “Instead of owning up that they need to change the agreement and reaching an understanding with the people in Vienna [where the IAEA is based], they’re playing this out to the last second. That’s not a great look.”
Procrastination is not without its downsides. Riyadh does not have a 123 Agreement with the US that allows for bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation, despite efforts to negotiate one.
A 123 Agreement would give Riyadh a seal of approval from Washington, while it would open the door for US companies to throw their hats into the ring to reap profits from building reactors for the kingdom.
While US lawmakers in Congress have not been willing to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s bad behaviour, the administration of US President Donald Trump has not let it get in the way of fostering closer ties with the kingdom.
Trump, for example, has vigorously supported conventional weapons sales to the Saudis despite Riyadh’s abysmal record on human rights, while his son-in-law Jared Kushner has forged a close relationship with MBS.
This disconnect between Congress and the White House on Saudi policy was noted in a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – a non-partisan Congressional watchdog – that found that the Trump administration may not have been as transparent as it should be with Congress over nuclear negotiations with the Saudis.
According to the GAO, the sticking points holding up a 123 Agreement between the US and Saudi include Riyadh’s failure to agree to refrain from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium – key ingredients in nuclear weapons – or to sign an Additional Protocol with the IAEA.
“They don’t want to sign up to that. And you’ve got to ask the question: ‘Well, why? what’s the problem?'” said Sokolski.
“We know that looking at other military acquisitions, particularly in the missile arena, that the Saudis have a bad habit of doing things in secret if they think it’s controversial,” Sokolski added. “Would nuclear be treated the same way as missile acquisitions? If so, this is another lack of transparency you’ve got to be concerned about.”
Steeped in nuclear secrecy Saudi Arabia is not the only Middle East nation playing its nuclear cards close to the vest. The region has a well-established history of it.
Iraq had a covert nuclear weapons programme that was dismantled following the US invasion during the 1991 Gulf War.
Libya came clean about its clandestine nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
In the early 1990s, Algeria signed the NPT and agreed to IAEA inspections after it came to light that it had built a nuclear research reactor with Chinese help.
A suspected reactor under construction in Syria was destroyed by the Israeli military in 2007, though Damascus insisted the facility was non-nuclear.
Iran built nuclear facilities that were not declared until 2002. In 2005, after the IAEA determined that the country had breached its obligations under non-proliferation protocols, the US, United Nations and European Union economically pressured Tehran to the negotiating table, resulting in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
That deal is now slowly unravelling under the Trump administration, which unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign of relentless economic sanctions in an attempt to bend Iran to Washington’s will.
“Iran is serious and it is a huge concern,” said Dorfman. “It is also a huge concern that America has withdrawn from active engagement.”
Though Washington has taken hard lines against Iraq’s and Iran’s nuclear programmes over the years, it has benignly neglected what is arguably the granddaddy of nuclear cat and mouse in the Middle East – Israel.
Israel has not signed the NPT, nor does it allow IAEA inspections. And for decades, it has neither confirmed nor denied it has a nuclear weapons programme, even though it is widely believed to have an arsenal that the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute numbers at 90 warheads.
Israel’s long-standing policy of nuclear opacity – and Washington’s acceptance of it – sets a poor precedent, say experts, for nuclear transparency from other Middle Eastern nations.
“It’s unhelpful,” said Sokolski. “It may well be that it’s in their [Israel’s] interest not to admit that they have them [nuclear weapons], but I think other countries, including the United States, their credibility talking about this is at risk when we aren’t willing to say, officially, ‘yeah, of course, they have nuclear weapons’.”
Sokolski believes Israel may even have come to regret going nuclear.
“Suppose the Israelis with 20-20 hindsight, some of them ought to be scratching their head on just how useful their own nuclear weapons have been,” said Sokolski. “There’s an argument that they actually would now, at a minimum, and maybe before, been better off not bothering.”
Nuclear pawns MBS has been candid about what would drive the kingdom to pursue nuclear weapons, telling US news outlet CBS in 2018 that “without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”.
The argument channels the 20th-century theory that owning nuclear weapons acts as a deterrent against enemies using them against you.
Deterrence theory has many critics, because it is impossible to prove that it actually works.
One thing that is irrefutable, however, is that nuclear-armed nations – or those believed to be – are still attacked with conventional weapons. Iraq lobbing scuds at Israel in 1991 – or the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 – are just two examples.
But developing nuclear weapons in the name of “deterrence” has an even greater potential downside for Middle East nations, say experts, because it sets them up to become pawns in a potential superpower nuclear proxy fight.
“The greater likelihood of tactical exchange if the worst happens between Iran and Saudi would not necessarily be a function of problems between those two nations,” Dorfman noted. “It would be more likely to be a proxy war, a proxy exchange associated with Russia on the one hand and America on the other – both of whom would be more happy to sacrifice Gulf states than their own.”
The king has ruled since 2015 and is custodian of Islam’s holiest sites. His son Mohammed bin Salman is next in line.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has been admitted to hospital, suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder, according to state media.
The 84-year-old ruler, who has ruled the country since 2015, was undergoing medical checks in the capital, state news agency SPA said on Monday. No other details were given.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi postponed his scheduled visit to Riyadh following the king’s hospitalisation, the Saudi foreign minister said.
“In recognition of the importance of the visit and a desire to make it succeed, our wise leadership in coordination with our brothers in Iraq has decided to postpone the visit,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud wrote on Twitter.
An Iraqi delegation, led by Finance Minister Ali Allawi, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
King Salman, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, spent more than two and a half years as the Saudi crown prince and deputy prime minister from June 2012 before becoming king. He also served as governor of the Riyadh region for more than 50 years.
The de facto ruler and next in line to the throne is his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The crown prince has won praise at home for easing social restrictions in the conservative Muslim kingdom, giving more rights to women and pledging to diversify the economy.
But he has also drawn criticism for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s long-running war and attempts to silence dissident and consolidate power by marginalising rivals, including a purge of top royals and businessmen on corruption charges.
He came under intense international criticism over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, which the CIA has reportedly said took place on the crown prince’s orders.
Saudi Arabia has announced it will hold a “very limited” hajj this year, with pilgrims already in the kingdom allowed to perform the annual ritual as it moves to curb the biggest coronavirus outbreak in the Gulf.
The decision marks the first time in Saudi Arabia’s modern history that Muslims outside the kingdom have been barred from performing the hajj, which last year drew 2.5 million pilgrims.
The move to scale back the five-day event, scheduled for the end of July, is fraught with political and economic peril and comes after several Muslim nations pulled out of the ritual that forms one of the main pillars of Islam.
The kingdom’s hajj ministry said the ritual will be open to various nationalities already in Saudi Arabia, but it did not specify a number.
“It was decided to hold the pilgrimage this year with very limited numbers… with different nationalities in the kingdom,” the official Saudi Press Agency said on Monday, citing the ministry.
“This decision is taken to ensure the hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective… and in accordance with the teachings of Islam.”
The hajj — a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime — could be a major source of contagion, as it packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites.
The decision comes as Saudi Arabia grapples to contain a major spike in infections, which have now risen to more than 161,000 cases — the highest in the Gulf — and over 1,300 deaths.
But despite the surge, Saudi Arabia on Sunday moved to end a coronavirus curfew across the kingdom and lift restrictions on businesses, including cinemas and other entertainment venues.
Sensitive decision The announcement to hold a limited hajj will likely disappoint millions of Muslim pilgrims around the world who often invest their life savings and endure long waiting lists to make the trip.
But it will probably appease domestic pilgrims, who feared the ritual would entirely be cancelled for the first time in recent history.
“Saudi Arabia has chosen the safest option that allows it to save face within the Muslim world while making sure they are not seen as compromising on public health,” Umar Karim, a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told AFP.
“But there are lots of unanswered questions: what is the exact number of pilgrims that will be allowed? What is the criteria for their selection? How many Saudis, how many non-Saudis?”
Saudi authorities said the hajj ministry will hold a news conference on Tuesday to flesh out the details.
In an apparent bid to give the decision a veneer of religious sanction, the Saudi-based Muslim World League said it endorsed the government move for the health and safety of pilgrims, according to state media.
The prestigious Islamic institution Al-Azhar in Cairo also welcomed the move. “This decision is wise and based on Islamic jurisprudence”, it tweeted.
And Youssef Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said in a statement carried by state media that he “appreciated the utmost care given… to the health and safety of the pilgrims”.
But the decision still risks annoying hardline Muslims outside the kingdom for whom religion trumps health concerns.
It could also prompt Saudi Arabia’s rivals to renew scrutiny of its custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites — the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.
A series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, prompted criticism of the kingdom’s management of the hajj.
‘Difficult year’ A watered-down hajj would represent a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.
The smaller year-round umrah pilgrimage was already suspended in March.
Together, they add $12 billion to the Saudi economy every year, according to government figures.
“This has been a really difficult year, with Saudi Arabia facing declining revenue from all sectors — oil, tourism, domestic consumption, and now umrah and hajj,” Karen Young, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP.
A full-scale hajj with millions of pilgrims was unlikely after authorities advised Muslims in late March to defer preparations due to the fast-spreading disease.
Earlier this month, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, emerged as one of the first countries to withdraw from the pilgrimage after pressing Riyadh for clarity. An Indonesian minister called it a “very bitter and difficult decision”.
Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore followed suit with similar announcements.
The closure of Pakistan International Airline office in Riyadh has multiplied woes of stranded Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia.
Passengers travelling by the national flag carrier also complained they were being overcharged for the special flights. It was reported that online PIA tickets were also not available, which compelled the expats to visit the PIA office. When the expats reached the PIA office in Riyadh, it was found closed. Passengers complained that agents were charging 3,000 Saudi Riyal instead of 1,800 Riyal announced by the national flag carrier.
On Monday, PIA increased flight prices for those travelling from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. According to a notification by the Pakistan Embassy in Riyadh, all passengers, travelling from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan’s cities including Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad and Multan, will be charged 1,861 Saudi Riyal (Rs81,884) for economy class, and 2,182 Saudi Riyal (Rs96,000) for economy plus class.
It also mentioned that passengers do not need to come to the Pakistan Embassy in Riyadh or Consulate-General Pakistan, as they could contact the PIA call centre, PIA booking offices and the airline’s website and the travel agents concerned to purchase tickets.
If passengers are overcharged, they could contact Pakistan Embassy in Riyadh and give the contact number of the PIA officials.
A PIA spokesperson Ather Awan, however, admitted an increase in fare. “All flights between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are special flights because Saudi Arabia had denied entry of passengers after the coronavirus pandemic outbreak,” he said.
“Planes fly without any passengers from Pakistan. To meet expenditures of fuel, the PIA makes it economically viable and fares are slightly high,” Awan added. According to him, the PIA was following the standard operation procedures (SOPs) for air passengers. He said that on Boeing 777, at least 393 passengers can travel, but now only 240 passengers can travel under the set SOPs.
Popular Saudi Arabia prince, Khalid Bin Talal Al Saud who has been in a coma for fourteen years has raised the hopes of all Saudi Arabians and the world at large as he moves his head for the first time.
All over the world, many are saying a word of prayer for the ‘Sleeping Prince’ as he still lays on his bed for more than a decade.
During one of the sessions where he was receiving treatment whilst in a coma, Khalid miraculously moved his head from side to side.
The action was captured on tape and from the video, we could a reaction from Khalid’s caretakers as they could not believe what had just happened.
The doctors and some family members could not hide their excitement and the video has since garnered tons of joyful remarks from social media.
Saudi Arabia has finally re-opened the doors to their mosques for worshippers, the first time in more than two months.
The kingdom, on Sunday, began to ease restrictions imposed on worship centres to combat the coronavirus.
However, there are strict rules to be adhered to.
Worshippers are to use their face masks before, during and after the prayer times. They are also to use personal prayer mats, avoid handshakes and stand at least 2 metres apart.
Children under 15, the elderly and people with chronic diseases are not permitted in the mosques.
People must also perform their ablution rites at home, before coming to the prayer grounds.
“My eyes filled with tears when I entered the mosque and when I heard the call to prayer. Thank God for this blessing that we are back to the houses of worship,” said Maamoun Bashir, a Syrian resident in Riyadh.
Earlier, Saudi authorities said that restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew ending on June 21, except the holy city of Mecca.
President Donald Trump’s administration wants to sell arms to Saudi Arabia again, one year after pushing through a controversial $8.1 billion contract despite congressional opposition, an influential US senator revealed on Wednesday.
“The administration is currently trying to sell thousands more precision-guided bombs to the President’s ‘friend,’ Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez said in an op-ed published online by N.Rs.
The government wants to conclude the sale, the details of which have not yet been made public, “even though the Saudis seemingly want out of their failed and brutal war in Yemen,” he added.
Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recalled how the previous contract to sell various arms to Saudi Arabia as well as the United Arab Emirates was blocked by Congress after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
US intelligence services had concluded that the murder had been ordered by the crown prince, “a capricious Saudi despot who thinks he can butcher his critics without consequences,” Menendez wrote.
When Congress blocked that sale last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoked an obscure “emergency” procedure to push it through.
“Today, a year later, there is still no justification for the US to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia,” stated Menendez.
“That is why I am particularly troubled that the State Department has again refused to explain the need to sell thousands more bombs to Saudi Arabia on top of the thousands that have yet to be delivered from last year’s ’emergency,'” he continued.
He called on Congress to block the new sale.
Trump recently fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was reportedly investigating Pompeo’s conduct during the earlier deal.
Many leading Saudi activists have stressed that slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder remains a political issue, despite alleged efforts by authorities in the kingdom to reduce it to a familial one.
Khashoggi, a well-known journalist in the Arab world who also wrote opinion pieces for The Washington Post, was killed in October 2018 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents to marry his Turkish fiance. His body was dismembered and never recovered.
The remarks by the Saudi activists came after Khashoggi’s son Salah posted a brief statement on Twitter earlier on Friday, saying his family has pardoned those responsible for his father’s murder.
“In this blessed night of the blessed month [of Ramadan], we remember God’s saying: If a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah,” he posted.
“Therefore, we the sons of the Martyr Jamal Khashoggi announce that we pardon those who killed our father, seeking reward God almighty.”
However, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiance, Hatice Cengiz, renounced the statement, saying “no one has the right to pardon the killers” and that she will not stop until justice is done.
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is not a family case, it is not a mistake in a normal context,” said Yahya Assiri, the head of the United Kingdom-based Saudi rights group, ALQST.
“The authorities killed him because of his political work,” Assiri said. “His case is political, so keep silent.”
تبرئة سعود القحطاني وأحمد عسيري في قضية الاغتيال الغادر للشهيد #جمال_خاشقجي رحمه الله هو حماية للدائرة الصغيرة للقتلة الحقيقين والتضحية بشخصيات لانعرف حتى اسماءها.
وحتى طلب القتل جاء بصيغة “القصاص” ليتيح لأولياء الدم (الذين تبتزهم نفس فرقة القتل الصغيرة) العفو!
@aalodah د. عبدالله العودة
“We categorically reject the Saudi trial in the Khashoggi case and its resulting judgments,” said the statement.
“The trial is unfair, the Saudi judiciary is corrupt and not independent, and the main suspect in the case is the Saudi Crown Prince, who controls the conduct of the trials.”
The signatories in the statement said they condemned Saudi authorities using the late journalist’s family members to “whitewash the country’s judiciary, … dwarfing Khashoggi’s case”.
It said Khashoggi’s family or some of its members did not have their full freedom to say what they wanted.
“[The] fact is that the issue does not concern Jamal Khashoggi’s family only, but rather is an issue of public opinion as Khashoggi was a political writer who criticised the political system and was killed for that.”
Omaima al-Najjar, a Saudi activist, said it was imperative to continue pushing for Khashoggi’s case as one framed within freedom of speech. It would remain in the public eye for several reasons, she said.
“What we intend to do is continue to flag the case as a fight for freedom of speech and call for an independent transparent trial carried by international laws and not by Sharia laws that enable a murder case to escape penalty through a pardon or blood money,” al-Najjar said.
“There was never closure of the case since the body was never found,” she said. “The Turkish authorities are also still keeping records of the audio of the killing – which is described by the UN as chilling and graphic – that they could leak at any time.”
Al-Najjar accused the Saudi authorities of trying to find ways to spare the lives of those who committed the crime.
“There have been ongoing trials of the case where international observers are allowed to attend but without translators. The trial has been a complete joke and I would describe it as a theatre.”
New details revealed on Khashoggi’s murder ‘Martyr for a cause’ Some activists also shared on social media a Saudi Supreme Court document from six years ago that said there can be no pardoning of perpetrators in homicide cases.
Under the Islamic law followed by Saudi Arabia, death sentences could be commuted if the victim’s family pardons the perpetrator.
But activists argue this applies to cases of family disputes or personal grievances, and not in a political case like Khashoggi’s.
“The public prosecution’s framing of the punishment [of Khashoggi’s killers] as ‘retribution’ from the outset made it clear there was an intention to exonerate his murderers by way of a pardon from the family,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi academic at Georgetown University.
“Unfortunately, what happened was expected.”
Karen Attiah, editor at The Washington Post for which Khashoggi wrote columns, said his sons had “surrendered and allowed the murderers of their father to go free”.
“We the sons of the martyr, Jamal Khashoggi – That we have pardoned the killer of our father – God have mercy on his soul – for God’s sake, as we all seek and hope for God’s reward.”
Jamal’s sons have surrendered and allowed the murderers of their father to go free. No justice.
But Abdulaziz Almoayyad, a Saudi activist based in Dublin, said he disagreed with any backlash directed towards the Khashoggi family. NobleReporters learnt
“It is immoral for the media to focus such attention on Khashoggi’s family, especially since it is clear they are being pressured by the fascist Saudi regime,” he said.
“They are in the lap of autocracy, and we have no right to criticise or judge what they say,” he added, calling Khashoggi a “martyr for a cause”.
‘Parody of justice’ On Friday, Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, said the “shocking” decision by Khashoggi’s sons to “forgive” their father’s killers was just another step in Saudi Arabia’s “parody of justice”.
Callamard said the move was “the final act in [Saudi Arabia’s] well-rehearsed parody of justice in front of an international community far too ready to be deceived”.
“Act One was their pretence of an investigation,” she said, adding that the team Riyadh sent to help with the probe had in fact been ordered to “clean up the crime scene”, accusing it of “obstruction of justice”.
Nearly a month after Khashoggi’s killing, a report by the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) had issued orders to kill the Saudi dissident.
In September 2019, the Saudi crown prince indicated that he assumed some personal responsibility for the crime since “it took place during his reign”.
Last December, the Saudi judiciary issued preliminary rulings in the case, according to which three prominent officials – Saud al-Qahtani, former adviser to MBS; Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul in Istanbul; and Ahmed al-Asiri, the former deputy director of intelligence – were acquitted of the crime.
Around the same time, five people were sentenced to death and three others imprisoned for 24 years for the killing, with the prosecution not revealing the names of the convicts.
The rulings were criticised by the international bodies as a “sham”, pointing that their purpose was for the kingdom to avoid holding the real perpetrators to account.
In the US, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said the rulings were a continuation of the kingdom’s efforts to distance Saudi leaders – including the crown prince – from the brutal assassination, adding that the crime was deliberate and not the result of a sudden decision or abnormal process.