Bloomberg: Saudi Arabia focuses on its national interests more than defending Islamic causes


London – “Al-Quds Al-Arabi”:

Bloomberg published a report prepared by Donna Abu Nasser, in which she said that Saudi Arabia is redefining its role as a defender of Muslims in the world, emphasizing instead on secular national interests at a critical stage the kingdom is going through.

She referred to statements by a Chinese diplomat in Saudi Arabia, in which he defended Beijing’s treatment of Muslims in Zhenjiang Province, amid international denunciations over the detention camps that his country had opened to millions of Muslims from the Uyghur minority.

His comments were not as important as where they were posted. In an article in an important Saudi newspaper in July, Chinese diplomat Tan Panglin said the Chinese Communist Party had united with the region’s Muslims in a way that led to “great changes.” This statement came from the Chinese Consul General in Jeddah, which is only 70 km away from the holiest spot for Muslims, which is Makkah, at a time when the United States and Europe accused China of persecuting the Uyghur Muslims and other Muslim minorities.

The Saudi position is being shaped by commercial accounts, geopolitical realities, the emergence of clean energy competing for oil, and the challenge with Turkey over the leadership of the Islamic world.

The author comments that granting the Chinese diplomat space to defend his country’s policies reflects the new political calculations under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the importance of secular local priorities, which serves him well in light of the change of the US administration despite its opposition to what is happening in Zhenjiang.

The writer believes that the Saudi position is being shaped by commercial accounts, geopolitical facts, the emergence of clean energy competing for oil, and the challenge with Turkey for the leadership of the Islamic world.

This was evident in the Kingdom’s position on the Palestinian issue, which for decades has supported the right of the Palestinians to their state, but today it is less supportive of them. In the same context, Riyadh has remained silent about the issue of Muslims in Kashmir and the persecution of the nationalist Indian government of them, and even established trade relations with it at a time Pakistan is heading towards Turkey.

It quoted Prince Abdullah bin Khalid as saying that Saudi Arabia suffered from cross-border political Islam, as a number of its sons participated in helping Muslims without their issues having anything to do with their national issues, stressing the importance of changing the course.

The author pointed out that Joseph Biden, the new US president, pledged during his election campaign to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” country. After four warm years with the administration of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Saudi Arabia, and this situation, will not be comfortable with the US administration’s talk with it about the Yemen war, human rights and the position on Iran.

It is expected that there will be tension in the file of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, who was assassinated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Especially after the new Director of National Intelligence Avril Heinz expressed her willingness to publish the CIA report on the last hours of the Khashoggi murder.

However, retreating from intervening abroad in the name of defending Muslims may achieve some points for Saudi Arabia when the Biden administration. “The Saudis may look to building a modern state that focuses on the economy more than continuing to maintain the leadership role of the Islamic world,” the writer quotes Emily Hawthorne, analyst at Stratfor, Texas, who advises clients on geopolitical risks. “It is a gamble, and it might work in terms of giving the Saudis some leverage,” she added.

Until recently, warm words praising the Communist Party were rarely read in the Saudi print. In the eighties of the last century, the kingdom allowed its sons to travel to Afghanistan and participate in fighting the communists on the side of the mujahideen.

On his 2019 trip, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to advocate China’s persecution of Uighur Muslims

Since King Salman came to power in 2015, relations with China have strengthened. He and his son, the crown prince, made separate visits to Beijing. On his trip in 2019, the crown prince appeared to defend China’s persecution of Muslims, and he signed with the government a $ 10 billion agreement to build a petrochemical refining complex. This month, Huawei announced the opening of its largest store outside China, in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Investment Minister Khaled Al-Falih announced in a tweet about his “joy” about the news.

The author says that the changes began slowly after the attacks of September 2001, in which 15 Saudis participated out of the 19 attackers, but they accelerated after the crown prince’s rise to power four years ago.

Under pressure from the US government, the Saudi government launched a successful campaign against al-Qaeda cells in the kingdom. The late King Abdullah decided to declare September 23 a “national day” and celebrate the establishment of the kingdom, which angered conservatives who considered the national day contrary to Islam.

But Mohammed bin Salman limited the power of conservatives after his rise, and allowed parties, women driving, and more. The government also tightened restrictions that were placed after the 9/11 attacks on charitable donations abroad. Prince Abdullah justifies the current changes by saying that they are not an abandonment of Islamic interests, but rather a “balanced support” in light of the different changes and contexts.

The writer refers to the Turkish-French dispute that prompted President Emmanuel Macron to accuse his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of inciting the murder of the French teacher who showed offensive pictures of the Messenger to his students, and did not blame Saudi Arabia, which, as it says, was the first to be blamed for the terrorist attacks.

Pakistan relied on Saudi Arabia’s role in handling the defense of the Muslims of Kashmir, but the Kingdom did not, and instead deepened its commercial relations with India.

She points out that Saudi Arabia, under Mohammed bin Salman, will try to balance its role in protecting and serving Islamic holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, facilitating access to them, providing services and expanding the two mosques in a way that allows the participation of a greater number of pilgrims. At the same time, the Saudi leadership indicated that it is not their duty to solve the problems of the Islamic world.

After India abolished the special status of Kashmir in the constitution, Pakistan, which depends on the remittances of its citizens working in Saudi Arabia, relied on the Kingdom’s role in taking over the file of defending the Muslims of Kashmir, but the latter did not. Instead, it has deepened its commercial ties with India, which in the third quarter of 2020 became one of the largest investors in Saudi Arabia. Turkey replaced Riyadh in Pakistan, where Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu opened a new consulate in Islamabad and signed a number of contracts, including one for filmmaking.

Researcher Emily Hawthorne says that Saudi Arabia may have lost the soft power game to Turkey at the present time, but it may try to pursue another game, especially since the level of sacrifice Turkey has in its economic interests for the sake of soft power is limited.


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