Saudi arabia

How dangerous is the Sunni-Shia schism?

In 2014, with the Middle East convulsed by the murderous, self-styled Islamic State, a Daily Mail reader wrote a letter to the editor which began: ‘Are you confused by what is going on in the Middle East? Let me explain…’ Aubrey Bailey went on to describe the dizzying complexity of diplomatic relationships thrown into turmoil: So, some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting our other enemies, whom we don’t want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win… And all this was started by us invading a country

‘The mask has slipped’ – Tuvia Gering on China, Israel and Hamas

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When China brokered a historic detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year, it seemed that a new phase in world history – and certainly in Chinese foreign policy – had opened up. Instead of the US being a policeman of the world, it was the rising power, China, that was stepping into that role. Whereas Chinese foreign policy had previously only really cared about promoting trade and silencing dissidents, it seemed that perhaps, now, Beijing was taking a more leadership role in global diplomacy and security issues. And yet the events of the last week and China’s response to them have shown that perhaps the country isn’t ready

Opec will regret taking on the US

Production will be cut. Supplies to the rest of the world will be curbed. And inflation will rise just a little bit higher. No one ever expected the oil-cartel Opec(+), led by Saudi Arabia, to be friendly to the West, or to help out when it was needed. Even so, its decision this week to effectively side with Russia, and to make the energy crisis even worse, may quickly backfire. In reality, Opec was already in long-term decline. Picking a fight with the US will just make that worse. It was certainly the kind of news the energy markets didn’t need. Just as it was getting over the loss of Russia’s crucial

Why I admire Saudi Arabia’s monstrous new city

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wants me to know that it is building a new city. Its adverts follow me around the internet. ‘Imagine a traditional city and consolidating its footprint, designing to protect and enhance nature.’ I’m imagining. Their city ‘will be home to nine million residents, and will be built with a footprint of just 34 square kilometres. And we are designing it to provide a healthier, more sustainable quality of life’. According to its website, this new town ‘is a civilisational resource that puts humans first’. Which all sounds vaguely nice, if also nicely vague (although as I happen to be a human myself, I do appreciate

Bush is leading us to tragedy (2002)

It’s 20 years since the clamour for the invasion of Iraq was at its loudest. Boris Johnson, The Spectator’s then editor, spoke to the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Ghazi Algosaibi. You can read more on our fully digitised archive. ‘No, no,’ says the Saudi ambassador. ‘This is how you do it. You cannot lift your arm above the shoulder, and you must do it sideways.’ He moves alongside, a big man with a faint resemblance to Leon Brittan, and makes a thwacking motion. Meet Ghazi Algosaibi, 62, a poet and author, the Arab world’s leading envoy to London, who has recently earned not just a personal rebuke from Jack Straw, but

Is Biden ready to let MBS get away with murder?

President Joe Biden will have only himself to blame if he feels a little uncomfortable this week when he sits down with the man who runs Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed ‘Bone Saw’ bin Salman (MBS). After the CIA accused MBS of ordering the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi – dismembered with a bone saw – Biden said Saudi Arabia had ‘no redeeming social feature’ and should be made ‘a pariah’. This was a satisfying bit of moral posturing during a presidential election campaign, but costly now, in a world where Americans are paying $5 a gallon for gas and Russia is funding its war in Ukraine by

Why Saudi Arabia is trying to take over the world of golf

Golf came to Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. American expats, working in the nascent oil industry, brought their clubs with them and made courses in the dunes. They worked out that if you sprayed oil onto a patch of sand and then packed it down, you could make a vaguely puttable surface. ‘Occasionally, a herd of camels ambles over our greens,’ one engineer wrote for Aramco Weekly. ‘The terms “fairway” and “rough” employ a distinction that is theoretical only.’ Today, Saudi Arabia wants to take over the sport. The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is trying to poach the

Boris is right to ask for Saudi oil

War and virtue don’t mix well, especially when it comes to the dirty business of energy supplies. As soon as the Ukraine situation turned nasty the UK government quietly did a turn on winding down North Sea gas, and may possibly do the same on fracking. And, having sworn off Russian hydrocarbons, Boris is now looking for urgent supplies. In doing so he is talking to some pretty doubtful regimes. Yesterday he visited Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi; he has also put out feelers to Qatar. Opposition parties have made hay. In Scotland, opposition to North Sea gas and ‘extreme fossil fuel ideology’ has come from both Nicola Sturgeon and

Rayner grills Raab over Lebedev and Saudi oil

When Angela Rayner faces Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, it is obvious that both sides rather enjoy the exchanges. When she’s up against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, as she was today, it feels like more of a grudge match. The session naturally centred around Ukraine, but as is Rayner’s habit, it was more political than previous PMQs. Labour’s deputy made her theme the government’s failure to ensure Britain’s oil security and links to Russian oligarchs. Much of her attack was about flaws in the absent Prime Minister’s own character: the first question was whether Johnson’s comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe when he was Foreign Secretary had made the situation

James Forsyth

The West has to bite its lip for Saudi oil

It would be ridiculous to claim that Boris Johnson’s visit to Saudi Arabia is not morally problematic. He is going to a country which held a mass execution for 81 people this weekend – a record number – and to visit a man who US intelligence blames for the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yet, if the West wishes to reduce Vladimir Putin’s leverage – and stabilise the oil market – then it needs Saudi Arabia to pump more; no country has more spare capacity than Saudi Arabia, which could produce another 1.5 to 2 million barrels a day if it wanted to. The best solution is – obviously – for the

Can Boris get the Saudis to pump more oil?

The oil price is up by more than 40 per cent since the start of the year. It is being driven up by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the lack of investment in oil and turning the world economy on and off again: US production is still not back to pre-pandemic levels. In the immediate term, as I say in the Times today, pretty much the only way to bring the price down is to get Saudi Arabia – which has 1.5 to 2 million barrels a day of spare capacity – to pump more. The West’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has always been morally problematic. The justification for it, despite Riyadh’s appalling

Why would the Saudis bail out Biden?

Is Saudi Arabia shunning Washington? Mohammed bin Salman has reportedly been refusing to phone Joe Biden, who wants the kingdom to turn on its oil taps as the West desperately seeks alternatives to the Russian energy market.  Riyadh – the world’s largest oil exporter – has so far failed to accommodate Washington’s pleas. Ahead of the Russian invasion in mid-February, the US asked the Opec+ cartel – of which Saudi Arabia is the most important member – to produce more oil to slow the already rising prices. Opec+ stood firm, and said they would increase production by 400,000 barrels a day in April, a rise agreed before the threat of a

Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning art scene

A little more than a century ago, a charismatic British army captain called T.E. Lawrence and fearsome Bedouin warriors swept through the sublime canyons around the desert city of Al-’Ula where I stroll today. They blew up the Hejaz railway, built to transport hajjis from Damascus towards Mecca but repurposed during the first world war by Turks to ferry munitions and troops. Such was the 1916-18 Arab Revolt that threw off Arabia’s Ottoman yoke. Today a very different kind of Arab uprising is sweeping through Al-’Ula. The canyons resonate not with bombs but with art. Dubai-based Zeinab Alhashemi has constructed boulders made from camel hides for a piece called ‘Camouflage

Why I should never look at Twitter

Foreign trips can offer a sense of perspective. Heading to Saudi Arabia, I prepare for my first stint of diplomacy. While most of the world has been fixated on Ukraine, a different subject has dominated the news in Britain for the past few weeks. I wonder how, if asked, I’d explain to a Saudi minister the British media’s interest in whether an open packet of crisps and a length of mauve tinsel constitutes a party. My first problem is more practical: what clothes does a feminist pack when visiting Saudi Arabia? Ministerial briefing packs are not terribly helpful on this point. As a mother of three adult daughters, I’m not

In Israel, there’s never an easy fix

From an Israeli army base on the border with Lebanon, I can see the village of Maroun al-Ras. An Iranian flag flies from the dome of the mosque. Nearby, strapped to a post, is a 20ft cutout of the late Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, which was put there earlier this year by Hezbollah after he was killed by an American air strike. His right arm and index finger are stretched out, pointing menacingly over the valley at Israel. Hezbollah, backed by Tehran, control Maroun al-Ras, and I can hear the buzz of a drone watching them. Some Israeli officials say Iran could have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb

How China won over the Middle East

In April, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a six-nation Middle Eastern tour to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. ‘Belt and Road’ cooperation, economic development and the Covid pandemic were the topics of discussion. The treatment of China’s Muslim Uighur population in detention camps, which some in the West have described as genocidal, didn’t come up. Both China and Saudi Arabia cleave to the belief that internal affairs are nobody else’s business — or at least as long as there are overriding economic interests at stake. Compare the silence of Muslim countries on the Uighur issue with the loud faux anger when the

The strange tale of NEOM: Saudi Arabia’s struggling desert megacity

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is desperate to shake Saudi Arabia’s addiction to oil. Its price has still not recovered from an American fracking boom seven years ago, and decades of excess have left the world’s largest exporter now needing £55 a barrel to balance the books — more than Iraq, Libya, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE. Looking to reinvent his kingdom, MBS is building a new city, NEOM. Sold as a rival to neighbouring Dubai, which has long been the capital of business and tourism in the Middle East, the city will cost £360 billion, will be the size of Belgium and is expected to be completed by 2030. Or

What the Khashoggi murder report means for US-Saudi relations

Today, after pressure from senior US lawmakers and staring at an impending statutory deadline, the Biden administration authorised the release of a declassified intelligence report on one of the most grisly state-sanctioned murders in recent history. The killing of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi may have occurred 16 months ago, but the murder has hung around the US-Saudi relationship like a wet blanket. The US intelligence community’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne, was intricately involved in Khashoggi’s death was a bombshell heard around the world. And yet media reactions notwithstanding, MbS’s role in Khashoggi’s demise was hardly a surprise. This

Bryan Fogel on turning Jamal Khashoggi’s murder into a film

Bryan Fogel seems to have done it all. It’s hard to think of a showbiz figure with a more varied career. He began as a stand-up and moved to play-writing and then to directing movies. In 2013, he reinvented himself as the producer of hard-hitting documentaries that focus on international scandals and cover-ups. He talks to me via Zoom from Los Angeles about his latest movie, The Dissident. ‘I was seeking what my next film was going to be – something that spoke to human rights and freedom of expression. It checked all those boxes’. The subject is the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist who was murdered in

Could an Israeli-Saudi peace deal be imminent?

The Israeli-Saudi peace deal is, to coin a phrase, oven-ready, a source close to the negotiations told me this week. After many months of covert meetings, the detail has been agreed and the Israelis are ready to commit. All that’s needed is for the Saudis to sign on the dotted line. This means that an alliance could be sealed within six months. Of all the Arab-Israeli peace agreements, a Saudi deal would be the most significant. The Gulf kingdom is a huge country that comes close to bordering Israel, and, as such, is of great strategic weight. It is the largest economy in the Middle East. And as the custodian