Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman travelled to Athens on Tuesday to meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Energy deals aplenty are expected to be signed after MBS’s first visit to the European Union since the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which prompted the EU parliament to pass a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia and calling for embargo against Riyadh.
The de facto Saudi leader’s Greece visit comes a couple of weeks after Joe Biden fist-bumped MBS during his four-day visit to the Middle East. Three years ago Biden had vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” in his public denunciation of MBS, whom the CIA has held responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
Amidst MBS’s double whammy to America and the European Union, MBZ, or Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, met Emmanuel Macron in Paris to announce new UAE oil for France, with Paris also hosting MBS this week. In May, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani had unveiled an energy deal in Berlin on behalf of Qatar.
With the aim of these pacts to replace Russian energy amidst the Ukraine invasion, the much-touted reenactment of the Cold War showcases the West’s capitulation to the Arab monarchs in the latest rendition as well. Even with crude realities having evolved over the past five decades, a US that’s producing almost twice as much oil as Saudi Arabia still needs “the leader of the free world” to bow down to a monarch overseeing mass brutalities and war crimes to “safeguard western interests.”
The groundwork for this capitulation was scribed in Joe Biden’s Washington Post piece written ahead of the trip, to explain, nay justify, the Saudi visit. Perhaps the only thing more preposterous than the Op-Ed—which could’ve easily been replaced by a three-word tweet: “need Saudi oil”—was Biden’s claim on his return to the US that he confronted MBS over Khashoggi in Jeddah. After all, if there were an iota of verisimilitude in US’s much publicised visa policy against individuals who target dissidents—or the “Khashoggi ban” unveiled last year—its first target would have been members of the Arab royal families.
The shambolic pretense over “fundamental freedoms” and “values” in Biden’s piece were coupled with phantastic claims, as he reiterated the US dedication towards an “integrated Middle East” and “isolated Iran” in the same space. The US president dubbed Yemen “the most peaceful in seven years” at a time when airstrikes over the country are escalating and 19 million Yemenis are set to face large-scale hunger.
Macron has been similarly cozying up to MBZ and the UAE, which has used its participation in the Yemen war as the springboard for greater geopolitical might, and is now aspiring to spearhead arbitrarily enforced ‘solutions’ from Palestine to Kashmir. Qatar, meanwhile, has made Doha the second home for the Taliban, with influence over the jihadist group translating into clout in an Afghanistan that is still the fulcrum for competing levers, from the Western powers to China and Russia.
And so, the Arab leaders that began churning out Sunni jihadist powerplays in the Muslim world half a century ago, redirecting the West’s geopolitical offerings—centered around energy fulfilment and an increasingly shared animosity for Shia Islamist Iran—are today being served all the affection by the Western powers even without the reciprocation of the past.
Saudi received all the fist-bumping photo-ops and American eulogies of an 80-year-old strategic partnership without actually committing to increased oil output. In fact, Saudi doubled its oil imports from Russia in the previous quarter while Moscow was waging war in Ukraine. Riyadh is also working on selling oil to China in yuan, which would formally announce the curtain call for the era of the petrodollar, the symbol of the Arab-West love-in for half a century that Washington and Brussels are vainly aspiring to rekindle.
The UAE too is not only warding off the West’s demands for sanctions on Russia, its dirham is fast becoming the currency of choice for Moscow’s oil sales to India. Qatar, meanwhile, loudly touting the upcoming football world cup as a ‘celebration of pluralism and diversity’, is cashing in on the Ukraine war with energy deals from Britain to Italy, bolstering Doha’s array of powers on the entire soft-to-hard gamut.
The Ukraine war has given Arab totalitarianism a new lease of life at a time when the Gulf states were scrambling to seek new avenues to maintain the hegemonies that they have built on decades of crude jihad. And while the West sits atop its high horse gaiting slowly towards Middle Eastern oil, the Arab leaders are openly facilitating erasure of Uyghurs in China and massacre of Ukrainians at the hands of Russia, all the while bolstering their regional might through unhinged, and unchallenged, quashing of human rights.