By Tamseel Aqdas
On 5th January 2021, uncannily, Qatar’s ruling Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Saudi Arabia’s De facto ruler, Muhammad Bin Salman, endorsed a solidarity and stability agreement amid the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the city of Al-Ula. This encounter and reconciliation attempt was out of the ordinary; as, since 2017 Saudi Arabia terminated diplomatic associations, trade connections and travel ventures with Qatar. Correspondingly, Qatar’s admittance into Saudi air space, ground entrances and seaports were suspended. The accusations against the state of Qatar were as follows: spreading of propaganda against prevailing gulf states through their Al Jazeera news agency network, establishment of robust diplomatic relations alongside Iran, funding of terrorist organizations and the supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Nonetheless, the Al-Ula meeting has altered Saudi Arabia’s approach towards Qatar, and the states mutually devised to refurbish their diplomatic ties. A communal narrative spawning transversely across International media is that, the modification in Saudi Arabia’s approach was for the purposefulness of stipulating Iran. As, the Gulf blockade commanded the establishment of substantial diplomatic and economic ties concerning Iran and Qatar, which ultimately confronted Saudi Arabia’s hegemony in the Middle East and the Muslim World. Nevertheless, this notion distant from the reality; because, this deal could be initiated three years ago too. Instead, the timing of this action penetrates towards the shifting US presidency from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. The new administration marks an alteration with the USA’s approach towards Saudi Arabia and its whereabouts. As a result, the Saudi regime is modifying its internal dimensions, foreign policy goals, and regional ties.
Donald Trump’s years in the United States presidential seat can be affiliated as the golden period for the Saudi Arabian government. Not only the human rights catastrophes transpiring within Saudi land and in its proxies were overlooked, but Inti Iran policies, such as, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and the assassination of the leader Iran’s revolutionary guard corps, Qasem Soleimani, was also undertaken. Nevertheless, this Trump-Saudi affiliation was a source of constant unrest between white house and the congress; as, several democratic congress members disregarded Saudi Arabia for the murder of the US based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, stirring of war crimes in Yemen and their intra state human rights violations.
Therefore, with the shifting administration to Joe Biden, a democrat, and an open confronter of human rights violations, Saudi Arabia devours to brace its self for a tougher relationship with the American government. In fact, Joe Biden has pledged to suspend US arms sales to the kingdom over its disastrous five-year war in Yemen. Additionally, Saudi Araba’s value in world economics is slowly declining; as, oil prices are not as dominant as they once were. Meaning, the Biden administration might demonstrate little resentment on resounding actions against the Saudi regime. Consequently, the amendments of Saudi internal dimensions, foreign policy goals, and regional ties is being undertaken by Muhammad Bin Salman.
In that regard, a notion can be established that, the reconciliation with Qatar stands as an effort to please the Biden administration, by way of Qatar being an US ally and containing US military bases. Adding on, other precautionary measures being undertaken before the shift in presidency embrace endeavors to counter the accusations of Human Rights violations occurring on Saudi land. Saudi Arabia is projecting the release of a prominent women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul. Hathloul was arrest in 2018 and sentenced to six years in prison on grounds of terrorism charges. Nevertheless, the conviction was deemed as politically motivated by several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International. Accordingly, steps for her release are being commenced for the purpose of pleasing the Biden administration. Furthermore, actions that can generate a peaceful Middle East are also being acquired by the Kingdom. On the eve of the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, was contacted by the Saudi Arabian authorities in a telephonic conversation. This was unfamiliar because, the relations between the state were dismantled following the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi. As, the Turkish government felt deceived and taken advantage of. In the phone call, discussions regarding the enhancement of ties with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, as well as bilateral economic cooperation were discussed.
In conclusion, contrary to popular belief, the recent rift in Saudi Arabia’s policies towards Qatar are not a result of Iran’s emerging influence. Instead, provisions are being acquired based on the shifting administration from Trump to Biden and marking of deviations in US policies. Detonating that, anti-Saudi policies could be generated based on Saudi Arabia’s corrupt foreign policy and human rights violations. Thus, the Saudi Regime has undertaken various steps to please the new government, including, reconciliation with Qatar, Turkey and the release of Loujain al-Hathloul. Notwithstanding, the future of US policies towards Saudi Arabia are considerably ambiguous and reliant on on Joe Biden impending into office.
Tamseel Aqdas is an undergraduate student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad.