37-Year-Old Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Named Prime Minister

In this file photo, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 28, 2022, for a meeting with the French President. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

 

Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince has been named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a government shuffle announced Tuesday night.

Mohammed bin Salman, who has been the kingdom’s de facto ruler for several years, was previously serving as deputy prime minister under King Salman as well as defence minister.

He is being replaced as defence minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was previously deputy defence minister.

The heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign and energy, remained in place, according to a royal decree from King Salman published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

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Prince Mohammed, who turned 37 last month, has been first in line to succeed his father as king since 2017.

He became defence minister in 2015, a key step in a swift consolidation of power that saw him take the lead on major portfolios.

Saudi Arabia has for years sought to quell speculation over the health of 86-year-old King Salman, who has ruled the world’s top oil exporter since 2015.

In 2017, it dismissed reports and mounting speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favour of Prince Mohammed.

King Salman has been hospitalised twice so far this year, most recently a one-week stay in May that involved tests including a colonoscopy, according to state media reports.

AFP

Mohammed Bin Salman, Hard-Charging Heir Reshaping Saudi Arabia

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 14, 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting in Riyadh. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

 

 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has shaken up the conservative kingdom with head-spinning reforms while quashing any threats to his status since becoming de facto ruler of the world’s biggest oil producer five years ago.

The hard-charging heir drew international revulsion after Saudi agents killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but US President Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom this week looks set to restore his position on the international stage, forcing world leaders to deal with him whether they want to or not.

A towering figure with a full-face beard, deep growling voice and seemingly boundless energy, Prince Mohammed is known for his super-sized ambitions, from building the futuristic megacity known as NEOM to waging the seven-year-old war in neighbouring Yemen.

The brash 36-year-old, known widely as “MBS” and said to have a fondness for fast food and the “Call of Duty” video games, is also fabulously rich, owning a $500 million yacht, a French chateau and, according to officially denied reports, a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting.

Unlike other Saudi princes with their British accents, sharp suits and Oxford degrees, MBS embraces the country’s Bedouin roots, usually donning a traditional robe and sandals, treating friends and relatives to lavish roast lamb meals in luxury desert camps.

Having plotted his path to power from relative obscurity, Prince Mohammed has overseen the biggest transformation in Saudi Arabia’s modern history, the world’s top crude oil exporter and host of Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina.

Under his rule, the kingdom’s religious police have been de-fanged, cinemas have reopened, foreign tourists have been welcomed, and Saudi Arabia has staged a film festival, operas, Formula One Grand Prix, heavyweight boxing, professional wrestling and a huge rave festival.

Yet he has also jailed critics and, in a sweeping purge of the nation’s elite, detained and threatened some 200 princes and businessmen in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a 2017 anti-corruption crackdown that tightened his grip on power.

His image was most severely tarnished by the brutal murder of Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October 2018, which prompted condemnation of the crown prince, despite Riyadh’s insistence that rogue agents carried out the killing.

“MBS is a hugely divisive character, praised by supporters as a long-awaited game-changer in a region aching for it and dismissed by foes as a brutal dictator in the making,” wrote Ben Hubbard in “MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman”.

“He is determined to give Saudis a shining, prosperous future and exercises an unflinching willingness to crush his foes. Combined in different doses, those attributes will likely guide his actions far into the future.”

– ‘Mr Everything’ –
Prince Mohammed, son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was born on August 31, 1985. He is one of the hundreds of grandchildren of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, and grew up in a Riyadh palace with his mother, Fahda, one of his father’s four wives, and his five brothers.

“As the sixth son of the 25th son of the founding king, there was little reason to expect that he would rise to prominence,” wrote Hubbard. “And for most of his life, few people did.”

He earned a law degree from Riyadh’s King Saud University but never studied abroad, and soon worked as a special adviser to his father, the then-Riyadh governor.

When King Salman assumed the throne in early 2015, he named Prince Mohammed as defence minister. Soon the young man also coordinated economic policy, oversaw the state oil company Saudi Aramco and supervised the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen.

Within a year, he held so many portfolios that diplomats called him “Mr Everything”.

The prince — now a father of three boys and two girls, who unlike other Saudi royals has only one wife — reportedly worked 16-hour days and drew inspiration from Winston Churchill and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”.

His rise was rapid, replacing his elder cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef to become heir to the throne in 2017. Three years later Prince Nayef, along with a brother of King Salman, was reportedly detained.

Prince Mohammed has pledged to forge a “moderate” Saudi Arabia and courts international investors for his wide-ranging Vision 2030 plan to diversify the oil-reliant economy.

“We want to live a normal life,” he once told business leaders in Riyadh. “All we are doing is going back to what we were — a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and open to the world.

“Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under 30 and, honestly, we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.”

– ‘Fire hose of ideas’ –
As he rose to prominence, he toured the United States and charmed leaders in the White House and on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

New York Times writer Thomas Friedman recounted how in an interview that lasted late into the night, the prince “wore me out with a fire hose of new ideas for transforming his country”.

Perhaps his most hyper-ambitious initiative is the $500 billion NEOM project on the Red Sea coast, to be powered by solar energy and staffed by robots, which the prince describes as a “civilisational leap for humanity”.

Reflecting the hopes of the country’s youthful population, Prince Mohammed has eased restrictions on women’s rights, allowing them to drive, attend sports events and concerts alongside men, and obtain passports without the approval of a male guardian.

Along with the reforms, though, came a crackdown on dissidents, including intellectuals and women’s rights activists, part of an apparent strategy to stamp out any trace of opposition before a formal transfer of power from King Salman.

Internationally, he has pursued a more assertive foreign policy, plunging the kingdom into a quagmire of regional rivalries: the Yemen war, hostility toward Shiite power Iran, a three-year blockade of Qatar until 2021, and the reported detention of Lebanon’s prime minister for several tense days.

Prince Mohammed, who once publicly berated US president Barack Obama for criticising Saudi Arabia’s rights record, forged a strong bond with Donald Trump and especially his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, which served him well during the fallout over Khashoggi’s death.

The prince initially faced renewed scrutiny of his human rights record from Biden, who released an intelligence report stating MBS had “approved an operation” to capture or kill Khashoggi.

Biden did not, however, take action against the crown prince and this week the pair will meet on Saudi soil, despite an earlier pledge to make the country a “pariah”.

This shift is perhaps an acknowledgement that Prince Mohammed, still in his 30s, could rule Saudi Arabia for half a century or more.

Short Hair, Don’t Care: Saudi Working Women Embrace Cropped Locks

Safi, a 26-year-old Saudi physician, poses for a photo with her short hair near the Kingdom Centre skyscraper in the centre of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on June 19, 2022. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

 

 

When Saudi doctor Safi took a new job at a hospital in the capital, she decided to offset her standard white lab coat with a look she once would have considered dramatic.

Walking into a Riyadh salon, she ordered the hairdresser to chop her long, wavy locks all the way up to her neck, a style increasingly in vogue among working women in the conservative kingdom.

The haircut –- known locally by the English word “boy” –- has become strikingly visible on the streets of the capital, and not just because women are no longer required to wear hijab headscarves under social reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

As more women join the workforce, a central plank of government efforts to remake the Saudi economy, many describe the “boy” cut as a practical, professional alternative to the longer styles they might have preferred in their pre-working days.

For Safi, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym to preserve her anonymity, the look also serves as a form of protection from unwanted male attention, allowing her to focus on her patients.

“People like to see femininity in a woman’s appearance,” she said. “This style is like a shield that protects me from people and gives me strength.”

– A practical time-saver –
At one salon in central Riyadh, demand for the “boy” cut has spiked –- with seven or eight customers out of 30 requesting it on any given day, said Lamis, a hairdresser.

“This look has become very popular now,” she said. “The demand for it has increased, especially after women entered the labour market.

“The fact that many women do not wear the hijab has highlighted its spread” while spurring even more customers to try it out, especially women in their late teens and twenties, she said.

The lifting of the headscarf requirement is just one of many changes that have reordered daily life for Saudi women under Prince Mohammed, who was named as the heir to his 86-year-old father, King Salman, five years ago.

Saudi women are no longer banned from concerts and sports events, and in 2018 they gained the right to drive.

The kingdom has also eased so-called guardianship rules, meaning women can now obtain passports and travel abroad without a male relative’s permission.

Such reforms, however, have been accompanied by a crackdown on women’s rights activists, part of a broader campaign against dissent.

Getting more women to work is a major component of Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 reform plan to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil.

The plan initially called for women to account for 30 percent of the workforce by the end of the decade, but already that figure has reached 36 percent, assistant tourism minister Princess Haifa Al-Saud told the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

“We see women today in every single job type,” Princess Haifa said, noting that 42 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises are women-owned.

Many working women interviewed by AFP praised the “boy” cut as a tool for navigating their new professional lives.

“I am a practical woman and I don’t have time to take care of my hair,” said Abeer Mohammed, a 41-year-old mother of two who runs a men’s clothing store.

“My hair is curly, and if my hair grows long, I will have to spend time that is not available to me taking care of it in the morning.”

– ‘Show of strength’ –
Saudi Arabia has traditionally outlawed men who “imitate women” or wear women’s clothing, and vice versa.

But Rose, a 29-year-old shoe saleswoman at a Riyadh mall, sees her close-cropped hair as a means of asserting her independence from men, not imitating them.

It “gives me strength and self-confidence… I feel different, and able to do what I want without anyone’s guardianship”, said Rose, who did not want to give her full name.

“At first my family rejected the look, but over time they got used to it,” she added.

Such acceptance partly reflects the influence of Arab stars like actress Yasmin Raeis or singer Shirene who have adopted the style, said Egyptian stylist Mai Galal.

“A woman who cuts her hair in this way is a woman whose character is strong because it is not easy for women to dispense with their hair,” Galal told AFP.

Nouf, who works in a cosmetics store and preferred not to give her family name, described the message of the “boy” cut this way: “We want to say that we exist, and our role in society does not differ much from that of men.”

Short hair, she added, is “a show of women’s strength”.

Saudi Adopts Online Registration For Hajj To Combat Scams

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca, on July 17, 2021 during the annual hajj pilgrimage. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

 

Saudi Arabia has required would-be hajj pilgrims from many Western countries to apply for visas via a government portal online, a move intended to crack down on “fake” travel agencies, officials told AFP on Monday. 

The new system was put in place as the kingdom prepares to welcome 850,000 Muslims from abroad for the annual hajj after two years during which pilgrims not already in Saudi Arabia were barred because of Covid pandemic restrictions.

It applies to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

READ ALSO: Saudi Eyes Tripling Of Foreign Tourists In 2022

Previously, pilgrims could register via travel agencies that organised hajj trips, a system that sometimes led to scams, with “fake agencies” making off with victims’ money, a second official said.

Saudi Arabia announced in April it would permit one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year’s hajj.

State media announced the online portal a week ago, and the registration period ended Monday, the hajj ministry said on Twitter.

Those who registered will be included in a lottery for hajj visas.

One official who spoke to AFP acknowledged that some Muslims in the affected countries may have already tried to register via travel agencies, before the online portal was announced.

He said they would also be included in the lottery — which has not been scheduled — provided they had booked via an agency accredited by the hajj ministry.

One of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj must be undertaken by all Muslims who have the means at least once in their lives.

It consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

It is due to begin in early July, and the first batch of foreign pilgrims since before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived from Indonesia just over a week ago.

Mask rules

The pandemic has hugely disrupted Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for Saudi Arabia, bringing in some $12 billion annually.

Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige and a powerful source of legitimacy for Saudi rulers.

In 2021, the coronavirus outbreak forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the hajj for a second year, and just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom took part.

This year’s pilgrimage will be limited to vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65, the hajj ministry has said.

Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia are required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.

Saudi Arabia said Monday it would no longer require masks in most enclosed spaces, citing progress in fighting the pandemic.

However, masks will still be required in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which surrounds the Kaaba, towards which Muslims pray, and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, where Prophet Mohammed is buried, according to a report published Monday by the official Saudi Press Agency, citing an interior ministry source.

Owners of establishments can also insist masks be worn if they wish, the report said, though mask-wearing has been sparsely enforced in recent months.

Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has registered more than 778,000 coronavirus cases, more than 9,100 of them fatal, in a population of some 34 million.

AFP

Saudi Eyes Tripling Of Foreign Tourists In 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb speaks during an interview with AFP in Riyadh, on June 5, 2022. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

 

Saudi Arabia aims to triple foreign tourism this year as pandemic restrictions ease, hajj pilgrims return and the first elements of the crown prince’s signature projects open, its tourism minister told AFP Sunday.

The famously conservative and closed-off kingdom inaugurated tourist visas in September 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally.

An uptick in domestic travel in 2020 and 2021 –- authorities tallied a record 64 million “domestic visits” last year –- helped save the nascent Saudi tourism sector from collapse, and now authorities want to seize more of the international market, Ahmed Al Khateeb said in an interview.

“Now we are pushing and moving to attract more… international visitors,” he said, specifying the goal for this year was 12 million, up from 4 million in 2021.

“We are back and we are very optimistic. Countries started to open their borders, restrictions started to ease down and people started to travel,” he said.

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Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows with its goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030, an element of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda intended to diversify the oil-dependent economy and open up to the world.

While the kingdom has in recent years relaxed rules barring cinemas, gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas, other regulations including an alcohol ban remain in place, potentially denting its appeal.

Khateeb specified Sunday that of the 100 million targeted visitors for 2030, 30 million are meant to come from abroad while the rest would be people travelling within Saudi Arabia.

Some 30 million visits will be religious trips by both residents and foreigners, largely to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites.

Next month authorities plan to allow one million pilgrims to perform the hajj, after two years in which the coronavirus pandemic forced drastic limits on numbers for the annual ritual.

Another high-profile feature of the tourism push is so-called giga-projects spearheaded by Prince Mohammed, including the $500 billion futuristic megacity known as NEOM and Diriyah, the seat of the first Saudi state which is being redeveloped as a heritage and entertainment destination.

A restaurant district in Diriyah is set to open in September, while other elements of such projects will come online “from 2025 onwards”, Khateeb said.

“This is a new level of tourism which does not exist today,” said Khateeb who sits on the board of NEOM.

“Saudi Arabia will change the tourism landscape globally… the destinations that Saudi will offer by 2030, it’s something completely different,” he added.

Saudi Launches E-Service For Umrah Pilgrims To Get Visas In 24 Hours

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca, on July 17, 2021, during the annual hajj pilgrimage. Fayez Nureldine/ AFP

 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched an electronic service for Umrah pilgrims to get their visas issued within 24 hours.

Muslims from countries outside Saudi Arabia planning to attend Umrah can now individually apply for the visa through a designated web service.

Umrah is the non-mandatory lesser pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca, which may be performed at any time of the year.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Saudi’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, said the validity of Umrah visa has also been extended from one month to three months.

He said pilgrims who visit the kingdom to perform Umrah can also visit other Saudi cities without any restraints.

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia To Allow One Million Hajj Pilgrims This Year

“Until recently, the usual way to apply for Umrah visas is through tourism agents to perform the rituals of Umrah,” he said.

“But the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched a new e-service that enables pilgrims to apply for the Umrah visas online which facilitates pilgrims to perform Umrah. The individuals can directly now obtain Umrah visas online as well as choose online the transportation, housing and many others that are suitable for them while arriving in Makkah.

“The Umrah visa will be issued in less than 24 hours online. The ministry has also extended the validity of the Umrah visa from one month to be valid for three months without restrictions. Umrah visa holders are also allowed to move around the Kingdom’s regions.

“The ministry will contribute to developing the Umrah experience for pilgrims. There are several companies who are now offering the service of issuing the Umrah visa online.”

 

According to the minister, one million people are expected to perform hajj in 2022, including 85 per cent of foreign pilgrims.

Saudi King Salman Admitted To Hospital – Report

This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's 84-year-old ruler King Salman has been admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh for gall bladder inflammation, the royal court said. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP
This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh.  AFP

 

Saudi Arabia’s ageing King Salman has been admitted to hospital for unspecified tests, state media reported Sunday.

The kingdom has generally sought to quell speculation over the health of the 86-year-old monarch, who has ruled the top oil exporter and the Arab world’s biggest economy since 2015.

He entered King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the coastal city of Jeddah on Saturday “to conduct some medical examinations”, according to an official report, citing a royal court statement.

“May God preserve the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and may he enjoy health and wellness,” the statement said.

It is rare for the secretive kingdom to report on the health of the monarch.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia dismissed reports and mounting speculation the king was planning to abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler.

King Salman underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder in 2020.

He was most recently hospitalised in March, for what state media described as “successful medical tests” and to change the battery of his pacemaker.

Under his rule, Saudi Arabia has launched ambitious economic reforms for a post-oil era and given more rights to women, while adopting a more assertive foreign policy including entering a war in neighbouring Yemen.

AFP

Saudi Arabia To Allow One Million Hajj Pilgrims This Year

Worshippers perform the al-Adha prayers on the first day of the feast around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca, on July 19, 2021.  (Photo by – / AFP)

 

 

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it will permit one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year’s hajj, a sharp uptick after pandemic restrictions forced two years of drastically pared-down pilgrimages.

The move, while falling short of reinstating normal hajj conditions, offered hopeful news for many Muslims outside the kingdom who have been barred from making the trip since 2019.

One of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives. Usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, about 2.5 million people took part in 2019.

But after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Saudi authorities allowed only 1,000 pilgrims to participate.

The following year, they upped the total to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents chosen through a lottery.

This year the Saudi hajj ministry “has authorised one million pilgrims, both foreign and domestic, to perform the hajj,” it said in a pre-dawn statement Saturday.

– Age cap criticised –
The pilgrimage, which will take place in July, will be limited to vaccinated Muslims under age 65, the statement said.

Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia, who must apply for hajj visas, will this year also be required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.

The government wants to promote pilgrims’ safety “while ensuring that the maximum number of Muslims worldwide can perform the hajj”, the statement said.

The hajj consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

Authorities took a number of special measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus last year, including dividing pilgrims into groups of 20 and handing out disinfectants, masks and sterilised pebbles for the “stoning of Satan” ritual.

But the relatively small crowds were distressing to Muslims abroad.

“We have been in great sadness and pain in the past two years because of the small number of pilgrims. The scene was horrible,” 36-year-old Cairo resident Mohamed Tamer said Saturday.

“I am very happy that the hajj will return to normality to some extent,” he added, though he also expressed worry about rising costs including for flights and hotels.

Reactions to Saturday’s announcement were generally positive on social media, though some Twitter users criticised the age cap.

“Such great news, but imposing age restrictions is heartbreaking for many aged hajj aspirants,” one user wrote in response to the hajj ministry’s announcement.

Others voiced concern about what would happen to pilgrims who financed trips to Mecca — only to have their plans ruined by a positive Covid-19 test.

– Matter of prestige –
Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, as the custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is the most powerful source of their political legitimacy.

Before the pandemic, Muslim pilgrimages were key revenue earners for the kingdom, bringing in some $12 billion annually.

The kingdom of approximately 34 million people has so far recorded more than 751,000 coronavirus cases, including 9,055 deaths, according to health ministry data.

In early March it announced the lifting of most Covid restrictions including social distancing in public spaces and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, moves that were expected to facilitate an increase in Muslim pilgrims.

The decision included suspending “social distancing measures in all open and closed places” including mosques, while masks are now only required in closed spaces.

Turkey Confirms Transfer Of Khashoggi Murder Trial To Saudi Arabia

In this file photo taken on December 15, 2014, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attends a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. (Photo by MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFP)

 

A Turkish court on Thursday confirmed a halt to the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi and its transfer to Riyadh, a decision that has angered rights groups.  

The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

A Turkish court began the trial in 2020 with relations tense between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers.

But with Turkey desperate for investment to help pull it out of economic crisis, Ankara has sought to heal the rift with Riyadh.

READ ALSO: EU Court Rules In Favour Of Mubarak Family On Assets Freeze

The judge told the court: “We decided to halt and hand over the case to Saudi Arabia.”

The court decision comes almost a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that he would approve a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia, at the latter’s demand.

The prosecutor said the case was “dragging” because, as the defendants were foreigners, the court’s orders could not be carried out.

‘Entrusting lamb to wolf’

Defence lawyer Ali Ceylan told the court on Thursday that there would not be a fair trial in Saudi Arabia.

“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said, using a Turkish saying.

Another defence lawyer, Gokmen Baspinar, said that the justice ministry’s move was “against the law.”

“There is no prosecution going on in Saudi Arabia at the moment,” he said. “Saudi authorities have concluded the trial and acquitted many suspects.”

He said the decision to hand over the case to Riyadh would be tantamount to a “breach of Turkish sovereignty” and “an example of irresponsibility against Turkish people”.

The decision has deeply angered rights groups.

The Istanbul tribunal “agreed to transfer the case to the Saudi authorities — in one sentence, just like that. Didn’t even bother to state the lawyers’ requests are rejected,” Milena Buyum, of Amnesty International, said.

She tweeted: “Appalling and clearly political decision.”

Five people were sentenced to death by the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing, but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned the sentences, handing jail terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.

Appeal

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was present at the hearing on Thursday, said that she would appeal the decision.

Turkey “is not ruled by a family like in Saudi Arabia. We have a justice system that addresses citizens’ grievances,” she told journalists outside Istanbul’s main court.

“We will appeal the decision in line with our legal system”.

Speaking to AFP, she vowed to “continue to fight. Whoever gives up has given up. I will continue. Sometimes the legal battle itself is more important than the results.”

To Riyadh’s dismay, Turkey pressed ahead with the Khashoggi case and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had, at the time, said the order to kill him came from the “highest levels” of government.

Subsequently, Saudi Arabia sought unofficially to put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott on Turkish imports.

Last year, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Riyadh to mend fences with the kingdom.

Transferring the case to Riyadh removes the last obstacle to a normalisation of ties.

In an interview with AFP in February, Cengiz urged Ankara to insist on justice despite the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

“In order for such a thing to not happen again…(Turkey) should not abandon this case,” she said.

Cengiz had been waiting outside the consulate for Khashoggi when he was murdered. He had gone there to obtain paperwork to marry her. His remains have never been found.

Erdogan has sought to improve ties with regional rivals including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation that has caused foreign investment to dry up — particularly from the West.

In January, he said he was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia as the economy went through a tumultuous period.

Turkey’s annual inflation has soared to 61.1 percent, according to official data Monday.

 

AFP

Premier League Can Cope Without Russian Cash, Says Minister

In this file photo taken on September 13, 2011, a general view of Stamford bridge is pictured before the start of the UEFA Champions League Group E football match between Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen at Stamford Bridge in London.  Ian KINGTON / AFP

 

UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston on Tuesday called for a “more robust” approach to the test for Premier League owners and directors and said football could manage “perfectly well” without Russian investment.

Britain last week sanctioned Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich — described by the government as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle — following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It has reignited the debate over the ownership of English clubs five months after a Saudi-led consortium bought Newcastle despite concerns raised by Amnesty International over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

A fan-led review launched by the government has indicated that an independent regulator is needed to protect the future of key aspects of the English game.

Appearing before lawmakers on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Huddleston said: “We recognise and the Premier League recognise that the owners’ and directors’ test needs further work, it needs to be more robust.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Economy Could Collapse If War Drags On – IMF

“I think we’re at a turning point for English football. The fan-led review is pivotally important. We recognise there are failures in the structure and governance of English football.

“If it was all working perfectly we’d never have needed the fan-led review which will be pivotal because it will contain an independent regulator.”

Russian billionaire Abramovich has had his British assets — including Chelsea — frozen but Huddleston said he did not want the European and world club champions, operating under a special government licence, to go bust.

“The action we’ve taken is precisely to stop that from happening because what we’ve enabled is for Chelsea to continue to operate and play and for staff to be paid,” he told the MPs.

“We are working with Chelsea and the fans that the measures we have put in place primarily impact Roman Abramovich and make sure he does not benefit. We want to make sure the sanctions hit those we intend to hit and not others.”

The parliamentary evidence session was convened to examine the role of Russian money in both the ownership and sponsorship of football clubs but Huddleston said there were “plenty of other” potential investors.

Russian Investment 

“Globally, there’s a lot of money in sport and a lot of money in football and I think we can manage perfectly well without Russian investment overall,” he said.

“I really cannot see circumstances for quite a long period of time where we’re going to welcome that money back, I genuinely can’t.”

Russia’s clubs and national sides have been excluded from European and global competitions, while several other sports bodies have elected to suspend the country’s teams.

Individual Russian sportsmen and women may be asked to provide guarantees they will not fly their national flag while competing on British soil.

When asked specifically whether US Open men’s singles tennis champion Daniil Medvedev would be allowed to take part at Wimbledon this year, Huddleston said: “Absolutely nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled.

“We need some potential assurance that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin. We’re considering what requirements we may need. Would I be comfortable with a Russian athlete flying the Russian flag? No.”

AFP

UN Rights Chief Condemns Saudi ‘Mass Execution’

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivers a speech at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, 2022 in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The UN human rights chief on Monday condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of a record 81 people in a single day, and urged the kingdom to stop using the death penalty.

Michelle Bachelet said war crimes may have been committed if people were beheaded following court cases that do not offer proper fair trial guarantees.

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it had executed a record 81 people in one day for terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number killed in the whole of 2021 and sparking criticism from rights activists.

All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State jihadist group, Al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Huthi rebel forces or “other terrorist organisations”.

“I condemn Saudi Arabia’s mass execution on Saturday of 81 people on terrorism-related charges,” Bachelet said in a statement.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that among those beheaded, 41 belonged to the Shiite minority, and had taken part in anti-government protests in 2011-2012. A further seven were Yemenis and one was a Syrian national.

“Our monitoring indicates that some of those executed were sentenced to death following trials that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to meet the most serious crimes threshold, as required under international law,” Bachelet said.

“I am also concerned that some of the executions appear to be linked to the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen.

“Implementation of death sentences following trials that do not offer the required fair trial guarantees is prohibited by international human rights and humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.”

The Saudi authorities should return the bodies of those executed to their families, the former Chilean president said.

“I am concerned that Saudi legislation contains an extremely broad definition of terrorism, including non-violent acts that supposedly ‘endanger national unity’ or ‘undermine the state’s reputation’,” she added.

“This risks criminalising people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

Bachelet said that Saudi Arabia was among 38 countries that continues to implement the death penalty.

The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world’s highest execution rates, and has often carried out previous death sentences by beheading.

“I call on the Saudi authorities to halt all executions, immediately establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and commute the death sentences against those on death row,” Bachelet said.

“I also urge the Saudi authorities to bring the country’s counter-terrorism laws fully into line with international standards.”

AFP

Saudi Arabia Executes Record 81 In One Day For Terrorism

Saudi-Arabia-Map
Saudi Arabia, officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a country on the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. Google Maps

 

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it executed a record 81 people in one day for a variety of terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number it sentenced to death in total last year.

All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes”, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State group, or to Al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Huthi rebel forces or “other terrorist organisations”.

Those executed had been plotting attacks in the kingdom — including killing “a large number” of civilians and members of the security forces, the SPA statement read.

“They also include convictions for targeting government personnel and vital economic sites, the killing of law enforcement officers and maiming their bodies, and planting land mines to target police vehicles,” the SPA said.

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia Suspends Social Distancing, Other COVID-19 Restrictions

“The convictions include crimes of kidnapping, torture, rape, smuggling arms and bombs into the kingdom,” it added.

Of the 81 people killed — the kingdom’s highest number of recorded executions in one day — 73 were Saudi citizens, seven were Yemeni and one was a Syrian national.

SPA said all those executed were tried in Saudi courts, with trials overseen by 13 judges, held over three separate stages for each individual.

“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten stability,” the report by SPA added.

The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world’s highest execution rates, and has often carried out previous death sentences by beheading.

Record number of executions

Saudi has been the target of a series of deadly shootings and bombings since late 2014 carried out by Islamic State group fighters.

Saudi Arabia is also leading a military coalition that has been fighting in Yemen since 2015 to support the government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels, and who have launched strikes in return on the kingdom.

Saturday’s announcement of 81 deaths marks more than the total of 69 executions in all of 2021.

Around 50 countries worldwide continue to use the death penalty.

In 2020, 88 percent of all 483 reported executions took place in just four countries: Iran, with 246, followed by Egypt with 107, Iraq with 45, and then Saudi Arabia, who carried out 27 that year, according to Amnesty International.

The executions on Saturday were announced a day after the release of Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ prison on charges of insulting Islam.

But Badawi, who received only 50 lashes before the punishment was halted following global condemnation, is now subject to a 10-year travel ban, officials confirmed to AFP on Saturday.

It means the 38-year-old is unable to rejoin his wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children in Canada, where they fled following his arrest.

 

AFP