The widespread rejection of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s visit to their countries by some Arab political and cultural elites indicates the great damage done to the image of the Kingdom across the region in recent years. This is due to the major mistakes made by the government in Riyadh, mistakes so severe they are considered to be political sins, of which Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Consider the Saudi-led coalition’s involvement in the war on Yemen and the siege imposed on its people since March 2015 which is having catastrophic consequences. The coalition has failed to achieve its main goal — the restoration of the legitimate government — while seeing the country suffer major financial and human losses. Famine is threatening the lives of half of the Yemeni population, and chronic malnutrition has affected millions of children, whose bodies are mere skin and bones. According to international organisations, a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen; that’s 85,000 children and counting who are dying from hunger and illness. All of this amounts to a crime against humanity. Saudi Arabia’s allies in the West are embarrassed by this and have called on Riyadh to lift the siege, end the fighting and seek a political solution.
The second political sin is normalisation with Israel and pushing the Gulf States in this direction in preparation for the establishment of an Arab-Israeli “NATO” against Iran next year. This is at the expense of the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem. What’s more, Saudi Arabia is hostile towards the legitimate Palestinian resistance and describes it as “terrorism”, and has also become involved in Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”. Trump said recently that if it wasn’t for Saudi Arabia, Israel would have been in big trouble with threats to its existence. This led to a wave of anger and resentment amongst the Arab people, who now believe that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah has joined forces with the enemy and sold out the Palestinian cause and Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to preserve the monarchy. This is an unforgivable betrayal in the eyes of the people.
Next up is the suppression, detention and torture of Saudi dissidents, including dozens of intellectuals, human rights activists, preachers and scholars. Those imprisoned include Salman Al-Ouda, Safar Al-Hawali, Awad Al-Qarni, Ali al-Omary and Ali Bin Omar Badahdah, along with other independent imams who refused to go along with Saudi Arabia’s unfair siege on Qatar, its hostility towards the Palestinian resistance, and its normalisation with Israel. The arrest campaign ordered by Bin Salman reveals his absolute rejection of anyone else’s opinions. This is evidenced most clearly by what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally killed and dismembered merely because he opposed the new direction that the Kingdom was taking under the leadership of the Crown Prince.
We can also add Saudi Arabia’s major role in destroying Syria and pushing it backwards by decades. Riyadh also supported the coup against the legitimate Egyptian government of President Mohamed Morsi and is leading the siege of Qatar. It was also involved, along with the UAE, in Trump’s sanctions against Turkey a few months ago, thus contributing to the devaluation of the Turkish lira. Furthermore, the Saudis reduced the price of oil within a few weeks in response to Trump’s demands, which harmed the economies of several Arab countries that rely mainly on oil for hard currency revenues. All of these political sins have dealt a harsh blow to Saudi Arabia’s image in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim nations.
Needless to say, oil money alone will not be enough to repair its image. Radical revisions to its policies in the region will be needed for that.