The power of oil: Saudi prince goes from pariah to darling of governments around the world

Until earlier this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) was one of the great outcasts of world geopolitics.

Since the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in 2018 inside the consulate of the Arab country in Istanbul, Turkey (a crime that, according to a CIA report, would have been approved by MBS), heads of state of The West and allied countries had been avoiding meeting the prince.

The American president, Joe Biden, in his victorious campaign for the White House in 2020, promised to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” if it won the election. One of the exceptions was the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who met with the Saudi prince during the summit of the G20 of 2019, in Japan.

Nothing like one day after another: the high inflation all over the world, in which the rise of oil has great weight, and the war in Ukraine, which has been taking the West to seek an end to imports of Russian hydrocarbons, made the once rejected MBS become once again the darling of governments that defend human rights (at least in speech) around the world – these, as always happened in their relationship with the Saudis, returned to disregard the violations practiced by the Riyadh monarchy.

Biden himself visited MBS in July to ask for an increase in oil production and thus force a fall in prices. Days later, the Crown Prince visited Emmanuel Macron in Paris, and the French President made the same request.

Both were solemnly ignored: in the first week of October, the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries with the addition of Russia (OPEC+) decided to cut world production by 2 million barrels per day, which represents 2% of what is produced worldwide. In practice, Saudi Arabia leads the group.

The United States announced that they would “review” their relationship with Riyadh after the breach. In November, however, the US Department of Justice presented a legal document to the federal court for the District of Columbia, to recommend that bin Salman be declared immune, given his status as Saudi prime minister (a position he assumed in September, although he already governed the country in practice), in the case of the death of Khashoggi.

The Biden government claimed that this measure does not represent a rapprochement with MBS and that this immunity is standard for heads of state and government and foreign ministers while they hold such positions.

In any case, Biden and Macron’s endorsement of MBS as a ruler with whom dialogue must be maintained seems to have made other leaders follow suit

Last month, the new British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, met bin Salman at the G20 summit in Bali, in Indonesia. According to a spokesman for Downing Street, in addition to oil, other topics were addressed.

“The leaders also shared their concern about threats to peace and security in the Middle East, including the Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region,” he said. “The Prime Minister welcomed the strong trade relations and defense and security collaboration between our two countries, and the leaders pledged to pursue opportunities to deepen investment ties in strategic sectors.”

Khashoggi’s death was not addressed at the meeting – unlike what happened in the conversation between Biden and MBS in July. Months earlier, one of Sunak’s predecessors, Boris Johnson, had already met with bin Salman.

Laughter at the opening of the World Cup

Also in November, the Saudi prince visited the president of South Korea (a historical American ally), Yoon Suk Yeol, in Seoul, who said that companies from the country could participate in megaprojects in Saudi Arabia, including Neom, a city futuristic and carbon-free to be built on the coast of the Red Sea.

The definitive return of MBS to the great stage of world geopolitics was its presence at the opening of the World Cup in Qatar, in 20 of November, when he was seen laughing on the stand at the Al Bayt stadium with the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino.

For Abdulaziz al -Sager, president of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, pragmatism ended up prevailing, mainly from the change of position of the Americans. These think about oil, but also mentioned the need to dialogue with Riyadh to curb Russian, Chinese and Iranian influences in the Middle East.

“The United States tried to limit the importance and role of the regionally and internationally, but, first, they discovered that this objective was unattainable and, second, that it harmed their own interests”, argued Sager, in an interview with Reuters.

“Therefore, there is a American withdrawal processto take negative positions in relation to the kingdom”, added Sager, who highlighted that the very nature of the Saudi State requires this pragmatism: “It is not possible to make a separation between dealing with the leadership and dealing with the State, especially in a hereditary monarchy” .


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