Few weeks ago we published an article on the Khashoggi case (https://www.young-diplomats.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-khashoggi-affair/) Following his agreement, YoungDiplomats decided to publish an interview of Roland Lombardi, a French geopolitician who expressed on the Khashoggi case…
Donald Trump said that if the Saudis’ guilt in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their embassy was proven, a very severe sanction would be imposed on his Saudi ally. Is the situation slipping for Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman? Has he gone too far?
Roland Lombardi: I think Donald Trump’s statement was made only for the form and gallery. Admittedly, if the famous Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was actually kidnapped and executed by the Saudi services (which is highly probable, but the judicial inquiry is still ongoing), it is a serious and above all very gross misconduct on the part of Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman. Especially since Khashoggi was far from being the most virulent critic of MBS. However, I would remind you that there have already been many precedents.
Nearly a dozen Saudi princes or dignitaries in exile abroad, and especially those opposed to the young Salman, suffered the same fate. And not to mention the many “disappearances” within the kingdom itself…
So did he go too far, did Mohammed ben Salman’s men get out of control or overzealous? Maybe. But beyond the international scandal raised by this sad affair, it must not be forgotten that it is also, for the young prince, a new way of sending a strong and terrifying message to all his internal opponents or those in exile. In my opinion, in this day and age, when one piece of information is always chasing the other at a mad speed, this crime will unfortunately be quickly forgotten. The Saudi authorities will of course continue to deny it and make a round back, waiting for the emotion to fade with time and for the truth to crush on the wall of reason of state….
Finally, coming back to Donald Trump, I don’t think he’s carrying out his threat. However, even if appearances are deceiving and the American President, as soon as he arrived in the White House, renewed the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, he does not hold the Saudis in his heart. Remember his campaign statements… They were probably sincere. Moreover, there is little talk about it, but he is the first American president to exert unprecedented pressure on the kingdom to finally fight sincerely (because this was never totally the case), jihadism, terrorism and its financing.
For the time being, Trump is using Riyadh in his policy of bringing the Iranian mullahs to their knees and in particular in his “deal of the century” negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Saudis being the only real and last real supporters of the Palestinian Authority and the only ones still having, thanks to the money, some influence over Mahmoud Abbas. By the way, and this is not nothing, let’s not forget that, if I dare say so, Trump always takes the opportunity to make them pay a lot (see the billions of dollars worth of American arms purchases by Riyadh). While taking care to remind King Salman, as he would have done recently with his legendary tact, that the Saudis finally owe their survival only to American protection!
Beyond the United States, Saudi relations are strained with many Western countries, starting with Canada, but also with some European countries. Can this growing enmity, based mainly on criticism of human rights violations, have any consequences for Saudi Arabia?
Roland Lombardi : I don’t think you should dream too much. You know, whether we like it or not, in international relations, and more than ever today, and all the more so in the region, it is the balance of power that prevails. Not to mention, of course, trade. The Saudis do not give a damn, as they did about their first Shemagh (the Bedouin scarf), about tensions with Canada or certain Scandinavian countries which, it is true, courageously protested against the kingdom and its human rights violations and its war in Yemen. Seriously, what does the international community weigh, assuming it exists? The UN? Europe? Not much of anything. Have international (especially verbal) condemnations put an end to the massacres carried out by the Saudi army in Yemen since 2015? Clearly not. Let us take the example of France. When President Macron was questioned about the Khashoggi case, we could very well feel his embarrassment…. Why? Why? For years France has been paralysed by its trade policy with the Gulf countries. I would remind you that French weapons and ammunition are currently being used in Yemen by Saudi forces… It is this same economic diplomacy, so dear to some French officials, that forces us in the region to follow the Riyadh line again, unfortunately. However, it is most often at the opposite of our own strategic and security interests (Syria, Lebanon…), while causing us to lose all credit and respect. On the Paris side, there will certainly be official protests, but it will suffice for the Saudis to frown and threaten not to sign any more contracts, some of which have already been waiting for years to be initialled, for the silence to be spread on the banks of the Seine about the disappearance of Khashoggi… We are too afraid to lose the last commercial crumbs that the American military-industrial complex in the region wants to leave us. It’s sad and pathetic, but that’s the way it is.
No, the only ones who really have a hold on the kingdom or who would eventually be listened to are mainly the United States and, to a lesser extent, Russia. However, as we know, it is not Moscow’s policy at all to condemn a country for its human rights violations… Rightly or wrongly, these criteria do not fit into the diplomatic considerations of the Kremlin. Especially since relations between Russians and Saudis have warmed up. Indeed, Russia and Saudi Arabia are currently cooperating, more than we think, on many regional issues. For example, the price of oil or the negotiations in Syria, in particular to have some jihadist rebel groups, formerly supported by Riyadh (such as Qatar), lay down their arms…
The Riyadh regime is clearly weakened internationally. However, isn’t it internally that it now seems to be the most exposed?
Roland Lombardi : You are absolutely right. In 2016, I wrote that Saudi Arabia was just a paper tiger. This is still the case. Admittedly, the international situation has improved somewhat (Trump election, rapprochement with Israel to contain the Iranian “threat”, rise in oil prices, particularly following the normalisation of Russian-Saudi relations…). However, the kingdom is still bogged down in Yemen and tensions with Iran and Qatar are still high. As for the internal political situation, it remains extremely tense. The economic reforms of the young Crown Prince are stalled and his societal reforms are met with many opposition, particularly among the clergy, and the observers who believed that this Eastern Perestroika would be smooth and, above all, that it would be accompanied by a relaxation of the regime were very naïve.
Certainly, Mohammed ben Salman still wants to reform Saudi society. Perhaps at first, and as was certainly the case, in order to give pledges to the Westerners, the Russians and especially to his American protector. The consequence is that he has made many enemies. All the more so, having as a model Sissi and Emir Zayed of Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Salman surely dreams for tomorrow’s Arabia of a clever mix of a more or less open society and economic liberalism. However, let us not be fooled, for this MBS must first establish its own dictatorship and thus put an end to the old Saudi political system based on consensus between the royal family, the various tribes of the kingdom and the ulemas. Thus, as I wrote a year ago, surrounded by enemies, found among the religious, the princes of the kingdom and even among his own cousins, the future king must “be merciless”. And since then, it has been… Today, Saudi Arabia is a volcano. The young prince’s life would have already been attempted twice… And the purges continue. So expect even more ferocity from the “Reform Prince”. For, for his own survival, he cannot show any weakness. It remains to be seen whether he will survive his old father to gain the throne and, above all, whether he will finally succeed in saving his country from a “war of Arabia” that would be catastrophic for the region.
Read the ortiginal article at http://www.atlantico.fr/decryptage/disparition-jamal-khashoggi-prince-heritier-saoudien-mohammed-ben-salman-mbs-vient-se-priver-future-couronne-roland-lombardi-3532084.html#P67smsiMOrSYCeBI.99