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Tags: saudi arabi | biden trip | mbs | joe biden

Was Biden's Saudi Visit the Right Thing to Do?

Was Biden's Saudi Visit the Right Thing to Do?

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, welcomes President Joe Biden to Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

Robert Zapesochny By Wednesday, 20 July 2022 08:48 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

I very rarely agree with President Joe Biden, but I think he was right to visit Saudi Arabia and try to improve our bilateral relationship. I do not buy the argument that we have to ignore Saudi Arabia's abhorrent human rights record in exchange for lower gas prices.

As I wrote last year, I still believe the best way to influence Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record is through our friendship. To move Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) toward our way of thinking, we need to understand his point of view.

I think MBS needs us as much as we need him. Saudi Arabia's economic growth is still too dependent on oil exports.

In 2016, Saudi Arabia launched Vision 2030 as a national goal to diversify the economy from oil exports. We just need to convince him that he cannot diversify his economy without improving human rights.

International investors have no reason to put their capital where it isn't safe. Without the rule of law, there is no reason for people to invest in Saudi Arabia beyond its oil sector.

MBS knows his country must change. Since 2016, MBS has curbed the powers of the religious police, he has allowed women the right to drive, and provided other reforms.

Saudi Arabia is still a dictatorship, but it has come a long way since the '60s. Slavery was not abolished until 1962. Until the 1960s, female education and television were forbidden.

After his grandfather, King Ibn Saud Abdul Aziz, created the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, every successor since his death in 1953 has been one of his sons: Saud (1953-64), Faisal (1964-75), Khalid (1975-82), Fahd (1982-2005), Abdullah (2005-2015), and Salman (2015-present)

Fahd and Salman were full brothers while the other kings were King Salman's half-brothers. Fahd and Salman belonged to the most important faction in the Saudi royal family called the Sudairi Seven.

They are the seven sons of King Ibn Saud and his wife Hussa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi. Along with King Salman and the late King Fahd, the other two most powerful sons in this faction included the late Prince Sultan, who was defense minister of Saudi Arabia (1963-2011) and the late Prince Nayef, who was interior minister (1975-2012).

King Ibn Saud fathered approximately 100 children, including 45 sons from 22 different wives.

Today only two of the seven Sudairi brothers are still alive: King Salman and Prince Ahmed.

Since 1975, one of the Sudairi Seven brothers was either king or crown prince, but they never had the top two positions at the same time.

After King Salman took power in 2015, the Sudairi clan transitioned from the leading faction to the dominant faction in the Saudi royal family. In 2015, a member of the Sudairi Seven faction was both king and crown prince.

King Salman's nephew Prince Muhammad bin Nayef became crown prince. In 2017, King Salman decided to depose his nephew and appoint his son as his successor.

King Salman's appointment was approved by 31 of the 34 members of the Allegiance Council. The Allegiance Council consists of the surviving sons and grandsons of King Ibn Saud to ensure that each faction in the royal family has some say over the future of the kingdom.

To ensure this transition, MBS arrested over 300 prominent Saudis, including members of the royal family and powerful government officials, shortly after he took power. The most notable arrest included MBS's cousin, Prince Al Waleed bin Talal who was the richest man in Saudi Arabia at the time.

In 2020, MBS detained his predecessor, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and his uncle, Prince Ahmed, in a show of dominance. MBS also put his own mother under house arrest.

Killing his critic Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and arresting members of the royal family are all signs that MBS is in a difficult position. He needs to prove to the Saudi people that nobody is safe from him.

MBS clearly needs the United States to diversify his economy as much as we need him to lower gas prices. We can certainly push him on improving human rights in exchange for a smooth transition.

Having said that, the Biden administration needs to beef up enforcement of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) of 1938. Since 2016, over $3.5 billion has been spent on lobbying from foreign countries, including $138 million from Saudi Arabia.

Before 2016, there were only seven criminal prosecutions under this law. Currently, there are only 15 people in the Justice Department's FARA unit who are enforcing this important law.

It is in America's national interest to push the Saudis on improving their human rights record. The Biden administration needs to properly enforce FARA on Saudi Arabia to prevent lobbyists from trying to influence our policies.

Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.

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Do we have to choose between human rights and lowering gas prices?
saudi arabi, biden trip, mbs, joe biden
Wednesday, 20 July 2022 08:48 AM
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