The Trump-approved golf event, the Paris handshake and a giant city boost Saudi Arabia’s image

Former President Donald Trump’s comments questioning Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks are the latest in a series of recent public relations victories for the desert kingdom and its ruling emir, Mohammed bin Salman.

Four years after he was accused of ordering the killing of prominent Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the crown prince was feted in two European capitals and a Saudi-sponsored golf tournament took place this weekend at Trump’s Bedminster golf club opened.

While Salman is getting positive headlines this week for his outlandish plans for a future megacity, activists and experts warn that Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reshape its global status are working despite little evidence of a change in its approach to human rights. Western hypocrisy and calls for reform in the ravaged region.

On Thursday, Riyadh’s continued efforts to distance itself from the September 11, 2001 attacks received a welcome boost when Trump said “Nobody got to the bottom of 9/11” in response to criticism from the victims’ families at the LIV luxury golf course in his home. club in New Jersey.

The kingdom’s Saudi investment fund made a lucrative round of golf, while a Saudi-backed group bought British soccer club Newcastle United last year.

“Saudi Arabia is pursuing a long-term and deliberate strategy to discredit sports and celebrities,” said Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

He added that “the money the Saudis are using is designed to be a way to reduce or divert people’s very serious concerns about Saudi Arabia, particularly human rights abuses.”

Many Americans hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the 9/11 attacks because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. The investigations did not implicate Saudi leaders, but they did highlight links between Saudi citizens and the financing of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The Saudi government denies any involvement.

Trump’s comments come two weeks after President Joe Biden punched Crown Prince Mohammed during a visit to the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.

The move has angered human rights groups who want to hold the crown prince responsible for the 2018 killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a US intelligence report. .

Salman claimed responsibility for the killing but denied any involvement and blamed rogue Saudi activists for the killing.

People walk past a memorial poster commemorating the first anniversary of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, October 2, 2019. Elif Ozturk Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The incident sparked international outrage, and in 2019 Biden, then a presidential candidate, vowed to make the kingdom a “pariah”.

Salman was then chosen and found guilty of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. “Now he welcomes him on the red carpet… He is out of the cage,” said Abdel Bari Adwan, a political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Arab news website Rai Al Youm.

Analysts said Salman’s return from a period of cold diplomacy underscored the West’s continued dependence on Saudi oil, especially given the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine. Washington and its allies are keen to counter the influence of China, Russia and rival regional power Iran.

Earlier this week, the crown prince, one of the world’s most autocratic rulers, toured the birthplace of Western democracy when he visited the Acropolis in Athens.

On Thursday, he traveled to Paris, where he enjoyed a long handshake with French President Emmanuel Macron in front of the steps of the Elysee presidential palace. According to the French report, the two leaders discussed “the diversification of energy supplies to European countries”.

Photo: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with US President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Summit on Security and Development on July 16, 2022 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit in Saudi Arabia earlier this month. Saudi Royal Court / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Activists say Salman’s rehabilitation will encourage other autocrats to disregard human rights.

“He succeeded, he really succeeded in restoring relations with the West after Khashoggi,” said Ali Al-Adabisi, director of the Berlin-based European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights. “These Western leaders do not bear the responsibility for human rights,” he said. They have their own priorities. And the message to civil society? Don’t trust these leaders.”

Apart from oil, Saudi Arabia is a major buyer of weapons and a potential source of construction contracts worth billions of dollars to implement Salman’s “Vision 2030” for his country’s development.

This week, social media has been abuzz with bizarre images of a 106-mile-long glass building in the Saudi desert, which is part of the crown prince’s scheme for a futuristic new city called NEOM.

While some critics have hailed the project as a cutting edge of urban innovation, most have described it as a half-baked idea that will inevitably leave a giant white elephant in the desert. Furthermore, Amnesty International has stated that the forced evictions and demolitions associated with the project violate human rights standards.

Pictured: Former President Donald Trump rides a golf cart with Yasser Al-Rumayyan, head of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ on July 28, 2022.
Former President Donald Trump rode a golf cart with the head of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund Yasser Al-Rumayyan on Thursday at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Doug Mills / Photo Re

Salman presented himself as a modern man, with ambitious building projects, curbing the power of the clergy, allowing women to drive and opening theaters and other entertainment venues unimaginable in his conservative kingdom.

But more than the crown prince’s predecessors, rights groups have condemned the arbitrary arrests, detention of human rights defenders and government critics, the executions of minors and Riyadh’s devastating war in Yemen, which is making the country even more repressive. The world’s poorest countries.

Analyst Adwan says Saudi Arabia’s reintegration into the international community despite its abuses will further promote cynicism in the West’s pursuit of better human rights standards.

“The West is already shooting itself,” he said. Arab public opinion does not trust them when they lecture on human rights. People say: No, sorry. As you know, we don’t trust you. We don’t trust you anymore.

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