The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to reinforce his goodwill and redeem his image by mending ties with Riyadh’s neighbors and the western powers. The neighbors of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) had grown apart in the last few years.
Most prominent among them were Egypt, Jordan, and Turkiye. On the other hand, major powers and their leaders had shunned Mohammed Bin Salman since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Now, four years after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed Bin Salman has been successfully redeeming his image on the global political stage.
Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions had put him at odds with the neighboring countries and the west in the last four years. They had damaged the KSA’s ties with its neighbors and western powers.
However, in the last six months, things have changed dramatically in favor of Mohammed Bin Salman and Saudi Arabia.
Four years on, Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to let bygones be bygones and is now again coming into the limelight with his public appearances.
He is settling disputes with the neighbors and the west by making the world move beyond Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Many world leaders have visited the Saudi Kingdom, while Mohammed Bin Salman has also made important trips to West Asia and Europe.
In the previous six months, Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Turkish President Erdogan have visited Riyadh. Most importantly, the US President, who called Saudi Arabia “a pariah”, visited his Kingdom in July this year.
On the other hand, the Crown Prince embarked on a West Asian trip to Egypt, Jordan, and Turkiye. While on his European trip, he visited Greece and France last month.
Relations with the Neighbours
In the last week of June, Mohammed Bin Salman went on a three-country regional tour. He visited Egypt, Jordan, and Turkiye and tried to woo their leaders to bridge the gaps.
The tour was aimed at restoring the regional supremacy of Saudi Arabia. The timing of the tour was crucial because it was arranged right before Joe Biden’s visit to Riyadh.
So, Mohammed Bin Salman was essentially trying to demonstrate to Biden that he is far from being isolated and that Saudi Arabia remains a key player in the region.
The regional tour started with Egypt. Mohammed Bin Salman met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. He signed 14 pacts worth 7.7 billion US dollars and discussed solutions to the prevailing territorial tensions.
The next stop was Jordan. In 2020, Saudi Arabia’s growing closeness to Israel had unnerved Jordan. Amman feared the normalization of Saudi ties with Israel could weaken its hold on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In 2021 reports emerged that Jordan’s Prince Hamza had sought help from Riyadh to topple his brother. Mohammed Bin Salman tried to settle the differences by offering economic assistance and 3 billion US dollars in investment projects to Jordan.
On the last leg of his tour, the Crown Prince visited Turkiye. It was his first visit to Turkiye since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
President Erdogan blamed Mohammed Bin Salman indirectly for the killing. He stated it was ordered at the highest levels of the Saudi government. Four years later his tone towards Mohammed Bin Salman changed.
What explains this climb down by Erdogan was Turkiye’s failing economy. Turkiye’s economy was in shambles. Saudi Arabia imposed an informal trade embargo on Turkish goods in 2021.
Their exports to the KSA dropped 92 percent. Erdogan had to stabilize the economy before launching the election campaign for the presidential polls of June 2023. Therefore, Erdogan had no choice but to bury his rivalry.
First, he abandoned the Khashoggi case. The murder trial in Istanbul was transferred to Saudi Arabia. Then he traveled to Jeddah where he met crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and talked about resetting ties.
As a result, Turkiye’s exports to Saudi Arabia increased by 25 percent in the first quarter of 2022, and then Mohammed Bin Salman visited Ankara.
Relations with the West
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assessment report titled “Assessing the Saudi Government’s Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi” indicated that “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Since then, Mohammed Bin Salman had remained politically isolated and receded from the global center stage. US President Joe Biden had promised in his election campaign that he would assess Washington’s ties with Saudi Arabia.
Notably, in November 2020, while criticizing the Saudi actions in Yemen, he stated, “There is very little socially redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia. We were going to in fact make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”
But now, western countries are also reembracing Mohammed Bin Salman. Taking a turnaround on the policy of shunning Mohammed Bin Salman, US President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia in July.
It opened the way for Mohammed Bin Salman to take back its position on the world political stage. The same month, Mohammed Bin Salman embarked on his European tour, where he visited Greece and France.
Saudi Crown Prince got a red-carpet welcome in Greece. He met the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and invited him to visit the KSA in October 2022.
French President Emmanuel Macron had already reembraced Mohammed Bin Salman when he visited Saudi Arabia in December 2021.
In the last week of July, Mohammed Bin Salman called on the French President at the Elysée Palace in Paris. This European trip indicated the crown prince’s reintegration into the international community.
The main reasons behind the West’s re-embracement of Mohammed Bin Salman include the Ukrainian crisis and the rising oil prices. The situation in Ukraine has now dominated the global discourse, thus making the murder of Khashoggi less relevant.
In addition, the passage of time has also played a role in softening of west’s approach. Secondly, oil prices are at a record high due to the war in Ukraine.
In this situation, only Saudi Arabia, a leading oil exporter, can help the west bring down the prices of oil by increasing oil production.
All these factors gave Mohammed Bin Salman an opportunity to redeem his image and he is taking full advantage of it. Mohammed Bin Salman is re-entering the public eye with his activities on the world stage.
He is resolving conflicts with neighbors and the West, and the national interests of the countries are causing them to bury the hatchet and move past Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
*The writer is a Fellow at The Diplomatic Insight, published by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies
**The views expressed here in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the institutions or staff.