Saudi Arabia expects no major change in its relationship with the US under Joe Biden, a senior official told CNN, despite the president-elect pledging to turn the kingdom into a “pariah”.
OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, a close ally of President Donald Trump, has appeared wary of Biden after he promised a stern stance against the kingdom for its human rights failings.
But Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, dismissed the notion.
“We deal with the president of the United States as a friend, whether he’s Republican or Democrat,” Jubeir told CNN, in an interview released over the weekend.
“President-elect Biden has been in the (US) Senate for 35 years, he has tremendous experience… I don’t expect that there’s going to be major change in terms of America’s foreign policy.”
The comment comes as Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 leaders’ summit this weekend, a first for an Arab nation, while global campaigners seek to draw attention to the kingdom’s human rights record.
Saudi Arabia has largely escaped US censure under Trump, who along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has enjoyed a personal rapport with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Trump’s defeat leaves Prince Mohammed vulnerable to renewed scrutiny from the kingdom’s closest Western ally.
That could leave the crown prince isolated amid economic challenges that imperil his reform agenda, a grinding war in neighbouring Yemen and pockets of domestic opposition to his rule.
During his election campaign, Biden threatened to make Saudi Arabia “the pariah that they are”.
Saudi observers dismiss the Democrat leader’s campaign speeches about the kingdom as bluster, pointing out that Trump also struck a hostile note in his 2016 campaign before quickly warming up to its rulers.
“We deal with the presidents once they’re in office, and we have huge interests with the United States,” Jubeir said.
“We are working together on global economic security, on energy security, on financial issues, and we are key in terms of the Muslim world. These interests are huge for us and for the United States.”
Nigeria’s teenage golf sensation, Georgia Oboh has continued to make progress into the elite class in international golf with the latest invite to compete at the 2020 Saudi Arabia Ladies Golf Tournament scheduled to tee-off on November 12th.
The Nigerian has been invited by the sponsors to showcase her talent with other female golfers from around the world.
This year, Oboh has featured in a total of eight events after the lockdown, setting off with the Scottish Ladies Open, then played in the Czech Ladies Open near Prague, Czech Republic, and the VP Bank Ladies Open on the Ladies European tour.
She also featured in tournaments in Switzerland and Spain and recorded some noticeable improvement in her scores from the same time last year in her scoring averages on tour and her finish positions.
Oboh who is hoping to give a good performance in Saudi Arabia is pleased with the invitation to compete with some of the world’s experienced golfers.
“I give God all the Glory and feel very honoured to have been invited to such a prestigious event which is set to host the very top of the Ladies on the Ladies European Tour and members of the LPGA too,” she said.
“I am happy with the way that my game is developing and looking forward to a great learning experience once again. The abbreviated season due to Covid-19 gave me a chance to work on my game and it has been great just to pause and see some return now, so I give God all the Glory indeed.”
She further explained that having the opportunity to play in the Inaugural Saudi Arabia Ladies International is just the best feeling this year and really looking forward to the challenge.
“I would like to take this opportunity to give God all the glory and acknowledging my family and friends who are doing all they can to make this trip possible as you already know that I have no Corporate sponsor yet but God has been so faithful through all of the challenges this year and I am sure He is the best corporate partner that I can have moving forward,” she stated.
The youth Olympian averaged scores of -1 through the tournaments and finished with two top 20s and two top 10 places and now set to make history with the other ladies from the Ladies European Tour (LET) when they tee it up in Saudi Arabia for the first time starting November 12 for two major tournaments.
The tournament in Saudi Arabia is the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund and has a major objective to grow the game of golf amongst ladies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Arabia Ladies Golf tournament is the biggest prize purse outside of the major events and the Scottish Ladies Open.
The Saudi Arabia tournament will be played at the Royal Greens and Country Club which was awarded the best golf club in Saudi Arabia 2020 by the World Golf Awards.
The first event is individual Ladies Stroke play over 72 holes with a cut after 36 holes and then the second event is the team event so it promises to be a fantastic time in Saudi Arabia for the ladies.
The president called for a sincere process of national healing as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain.
The healing, the President said, is necessary as the nation has consistently focused on “contrived fault-lines” that have been “allowed unnecessarily to fester.”
“We need to begin a sincere process of national healing and this anniversary presents a genuine opportunity to eliminate old and outworn perceptions that are always put to test in the lie they always are,” the President said.
He argued that to achieve a desired great country, the nation needs to solidify its strength, adding that the citizens must increase their commitment and encourage each other to do that which is right and proper even when no one is watching.
Saudi Arabia said Monday it will hold the G20 summit virtually in November, instead of having leaders of the world’s richest nations converge on Riyadh as planned before the coronavirus crisis.
The pandemic has forced all of the group’s meetings to be held by videoconference since March.
In that month, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman chaired an emergency virtual summit of leaders to discuss a global response to the crisis which has ravaged global economies.
“The 2020 G20 Leaders’ Summit will be held virtually on November 21-22 and will be chaired by His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,” the kingdom said in a statement.
“The upcoming G20 Leaders’ Summit will focus on protecting lives and restoring growth, by addressing vulnerabilities uncovered during the pandemic and by laying down the foundations for a better future.”
Saudi Arabia had been attempting to repair its frayed global image ahead of its hosting of the summit.
The conservative kingdom, under fire over human rights abuses, has accelerated investment in glitzy sports and entertainment events in a bid to soften its profile and boost jobs and investment.
However, human rights groups have urged G20 member states to exert pressure on the kingdom over its intensifying crackdown on dissent, which has seen women activists, journalists and political dissidents jailed.
New York city’s mayor Bill de Blasio recently pulled out of a Saudi-hosted Urban 20 mayors’ conference, amid calls for a boycott of the event that coincides with the anniversary of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
Khashoggi’s 2018 killing, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, battered the reputation of the kingdom and of 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who controls all major levers of power.
OPEC faces a critical moment in its 60-year history with the coronavirus crushing crude demand and prices, discord among its members, and threats from a world seeking cleaner fuels.
Founded on September 14, 1960, by Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela who sought to control crude oil output, OPEC currently comprises 13 members including nations from Africa and Latin America.
The 60th anniversary “comes at a critical moment in its history”, UniCredit analyst Edoardo Campanella said in reference to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
“Its ability to steer the oil market in its favour has never been put in question to the extent it is now,” he noted.
– ‘Relevant role’ –
The Vienna-based institution convenes for regular meetings to assess the state of supply and demand in the marketplace, and its pronouncements can still spark major price swings.
That ability has dimmed in recent years however, prompting it to join forces with ten non-OPEC producers including Russia to curb their collective output.
OPEC+ essentially wanted to counter surging energy supplies from shale rock in the United States and help clear a stubborn supply glut on world markets.
Today, OPEC pumps about one third of global oil — but OPEC+ accounts for almost 50 percent, giving it greater clout.
Carlo Alberto de Casa, trader at Activtrades, insisted that the cartel retains a “relevant” function in the market, dismissing talk the organisation was a “has-been”.
“They are slightly less influential compared to the past, also due to production of non-OPEC countries and new extraction techniques. But I still see a role for OPEC,” he told AFP.
This despite the larger OPEC+ in March failing to agree on a new strategy — with Russia refusing cartel kingpin Saudi Arabia’s request to cut their collective output and combat a virus-fuelled slump in crude demand.
In response, top global exporter Saudi slashed its prices and raised output to preserve market share in the face of Russian opposition.
The Saudi-Russian price war, in tandem with the worsening Covid-19 pandemic, sent oil prices off a cliff — and even caused New York’s light sweet crude contract to briefly turn negative in April — meaning producers paid buyers to take the oil off their hands.
After the unprecedented market crash, OPEC+ in May slashed up to a fifth of its output — a move that triggered a sharp rebound in crude prices to current levels around $40 per barrel.
Added to the supply backdrop, the United States, now the world’s biggest oil producer, curbed the pace of costly shale extraction.
Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu, while noting that OPEC has lost market share in recent years, said the cartel still has an important role to play because it possesses the largest amount of accessible crude.
This meant that extracting its oil resulted in fewer carbon emissions, she said.
“I would argue that OPEC would become more and more important” in the future, she concluded.
Saudi Arabia will gradually resume the year-round umrah pilgrimage from October 4, the interior ministry said on Tuesday, seven months after it was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the first stage, “6,000 citizens and residents within the kingdom will be allowed to perform the umrah per day from October 4”, the ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Visitors from outside the kingdom will be permitted from November 1, when umrah’s capacity will be raised to 20,000 pilgrims per day, the ministry said.
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year.
The ministry said umrah would be allowed to resume at full capacity once the threat of the pandemic is eliminated.
Saudi Arabia suspended the umrah in March and scaled back the annual hajj over fears that the coronavirus could spread to Islam’s holiest cities.
The pilgrimages are a massive logistical challenge, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites, making them vulnerable to contagion.
The decision to resume umrah was in response to the “aspirations of Muslims home and abroad” to perform the ritual and visit the holy sites, the interior ministry said.
Saudi Arabia’s custodianship of Mecca and Medina — Islam’s two holiest sites — is seen as the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.
The holy sites, which draw millions of pilgrims every year, are a key revenue earner for Saudi Arabia.
De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to decouple the kingdom’s economy — the world’s top crude exporter — from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
The government hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims to the kingdom annually by 2030.
Around 120,000 years ago in what is now northern Saudi Arabia, a small band of homo sapiens stopped to drink and forage at a shallow lake that was also frequented by camels, buffalo, and elephants bigger than any species seen today.
The people may have hunted the large mammals but they did not stay long, using the watering hole as a waypoint on a longer journey.
This detailed scene was reconstructed by researchers in a new study published in Science Advances on Thursday, following the discovery of ancient human and animal footprints in the Nefud Desert that shed new light on the routes our ancient ancestors took as they spread out of Africa.
Today, the Arabian Peninsula is characterized by vast, arid deserts that would have been inhospitable to early people and the animals they hunted down.
But research over the last decade has shown this wasn’t always the case — due to natural climate variation it experienced much greener and more humid conditions in a period known as the last interglacial.
“At certain times in the past, the deserts that dominate the interior of the peninsula transformed into expansive grasslands with permanent freshwater lakes and rivers,” explained study co-author Richard Clark-Wilson of Royal Holloway.
The paper’s first author Mathew Stewart, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Germany, told AFP the footprints were discovered during his PhD field work in 2017 following the erosion of overlying sediments at an ancient lake dubbed ‘Alathar’ (meaning “the trace” in Arabic).
“Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence in that they provide snapshots in time, typically representing a few hours or days, a resolution we tend not to get from other records,” he said.
The prints were dated using a technique called optical stimulated luminescence — blasting light at quartz grains and measuring the amount of energy emitted from them.
– A Green Arabia –
In total, seven out of the hundreds of prints discovered were confidently identified as hominin, including four that, given their similar orientation, distances from one another and differences in size, were interpreted as two or three individuals traveling together.
The researchers argue these belonged to modern humans, as opposed to Neanderthals, on the basis that our extinct cousins aren’t known to have been present in the wider Middle East region at the time, and based on stature and mass estimates inferred from the prints.
“We know that humans were visiting this lake at the same time these animals were, and, unusually for the area, there’s no stone tools,” said Stewart, which would have indicated the humans made a longer term settlement there.
“It appears that these people were visiting the lake for water resources and just to forage at the same time as the animals,” and probably to also hunt them.
The elephants, which had gone extinct in the nearby Levant region some 400,000 years ago, would have been particularly attractive prey, and their presence also suggests other plentiful freshwater resources and greenery.
In addition to the footprints, some 233 fossils were recovered, and it’s likely that carnivores were attracted to the herbivores at Alathar, similar to what is seen in African savannas today.
According to the paper, fossils were first recorded for Homo sapiens outside of Africa between roughly 210 and 180 thousand years in southern Greece and the Levant.
The new paper demonstrates “inland routes, following lakes and rivers, may have been particularly important to humans dispersing out of Africa” too, said Stewart.
“The presence of large animals such as elephants and hippos, together with open grasslands and large water resources, may have made northern Arabia a particularly attractive place to humans moving between Africa and Eurasia,” added the study’s senior author Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
Europe will face a rising death toll from the coronavirus during the autumn months, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as the number of daily infections around the world reached a record high.
Israel was among the countries battling a new spike, announcing a three-week lockdown from Friday when people will not be allowed more than 500 metres from their homes.
The announcement sparked a wave of anger.
“It’s unfair!” said Eti Avishai, a 64-year-old seamstress. “They didn’t stop the big gatherings in synagogues, the weddings and the other events, and now I can’t be with my children and grandchildren during the holidays?”
The World Health Organization reported 307,930 new cases worldwide on Sunday, the highest daily figure since the beginning of the pandemic in China late last year, as global cases rapidly approach 29 million.
“It’s going to get tougher. In October, November, we are going to see more mortality,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview.
WHO Europe’s 55 members started a two-day online meeting Monday focusing on their response to the virus.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the meeting by video-link: “We are by no means out of the woods.”
– Millions back to school –
The latest surge has sparked alarm across Europe and revived the debate over how best to respond to the rise in infections. England has limited social gatherings to no more than six people from Monday.
On the other hand, millions of schoolchildren in other affected countries have returned to their classrooms for the first time in months.
Italian children were among the first in Europe to see their schools closed, and some 5.6 million returned for the first time in six months on Monday.
Although officials said thousands of extra classrooms had been set up, there were concerns over a lack of surgical masks for teachers and a shortage of single-seat benches.
Some southern Italian regions postponed their reopening, worried they were not properly prepared.
A Vatican spokesman meanwhile said Pope Francis was being “constantly monitored” after having met with a cardinal who later tested positive.
– Trump Rally ‘Reckless’ –
While Europe battles with rising infections, other parts of the world are tentatively easing restrictions.
Saudi Arabia said it would partially lift a six-month suspension of international flights this week, while South Korea said it would ease rules in and around the capital Seoul after cases declined.
The backlash against the restrictions is also being factored in by beleaguered governments.
Australian police arrested dozens of people over the weekend at anti-lockdown rallies in Melbourne as crowds defied stay-at-home orders. Similar rallies took place in Germany and Poland on Saturday attended by anti-vaccine campaigners, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists.
Such protests are relatively common in the United States, the hardest-hit nation in the world with more than 6.5 million infections and 194,000 deaths.
President Donald Trump, under pressure for campaigning for the economy to reopen despite the catastrophic figures, was criticised for holding big rallies over the weekend.
“Tonight, President Donald Trump is taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada,” state governor Steve Sisolak, of the rival Democratic Party, tweeted ahead of the Sunday rally.
At the rally, Trump boasted about his success dealing with the pandemic and dismissed Sisolak as a “political hack”.
– ‘Exhausted’ health workers –
There was some good news in Britain, where regulators allowed clinical trials to resume on one of the most advanced experimental vaccines.
Researchers on the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford University project, who hope to finish tests by the end of the year, had “voluntarily paused” the trial after a UK volunteer developed an unexplained illness.
A vaccine is considered crucial to the fight against the virus, but the WHO’s Kluge said the public should not put all their hopes on a single drug.
“I hear the whole time: ‘the vaccine is going to be the end of the pandemic’. Of course not,” he said. The end of the pandemic would come when communities learn to live with the disease, he stressed.
Meanwhile, the wider effects of the pandemic are biting hard on medical staff and strained health systems.
“I gave birth a fortnight ago, and once you’re in hospital you realise that the nurses, the carers… they don’t have the means,” said Severine at a rally in Brussels on Sunday for better health funding.
“They’re always being asked for more, always too much, they’re exhausted.”
Czech Post meanwhile announced Monday it was to deliver face masks and respirators to millions of senior citizens this week, as the number of cases rose there.
Saudi Arabia will partially lift its suspension on international flights from September 15, the interior ministry said Sunday, six months after travel curbs were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The kingdom will end all restrictions on air, land and sea transport for Saudi citizens “after January 1” next year, the ministry added, without specifying an exact date.
Gulf citizens and non-Saudis with valid residency permits or visas will be allowed to enter the kingdom from September 15 as long as they are not infected with the virus, the ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Other “exceptional categories”, including government and military employees, foreign embassy workers and people requiring medical treatment, will also be allowed from September 15.
The ministry added that Saudi Arabia will later announce a plan to gradually allow the umrah pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round umrah in March over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam’s holiest cities.
The kingdom also organised a scaled-down hajj in late July, with only up to 10,000 Muslims taking part in the annual pilgrimage, a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated last year.
Saudi Arabia suspended international flights in March, leaving many citizens and residents stranded overseas.
The kingdom has sought to contain a major spike in infections, which have now risen to more than 325,000 cases — the highest in the Gulf — and over 4,200 deaths.
In June, Saudi Arabia moved to end a coronavirus curfew across the kingdom and lift restrictions on businesses, including cinemas and other entertainment venues.
A Saudi court on Monday overturned five death sentences over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, in a final ruling that was condemned by his fiancee and slammed by a UN expert as a “parody of justice”.
Eight unnamed defendants were handed jail terms of between seven and 20 years in a verdict that comes after Khashoggi’s sons “pardoned” the killers in May, paving the way for a less severe punishment.
The court ruling underscores Saudi efforts to draw a line under the October 2018 murder as the kingdom seeks to reboot its international image ahead of November’s G20 summit in Riyadh.
The closed-door trial of 11 suspects ended in December with five unnamed people sentenced to death and three others handed jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing.
But the family’s pardon paved the way for Monday’s reduced sentences, including clemency for the five people on death row.
“Five convicts were sentenced to 20 years in prison… one person was sentenced to 10 years and two others to seven years,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a spokesman for the public prosecutor.
Mockery of justice’
None of the defendants were named in what was described as the final court ruling on the murder, which triggered an international outcry and tarnished the global reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish fiancee of the slain journalist, branded the verdict a “farce”.
“The ruling handed down today in Saudi Arabia again makes a complete mockery of justice,” Cengiz said on Twitter.
Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, slammed the ruling as “one more act today in this parody of justice”.
“These verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy,” Callamard wrote on Twitter. “They came at the end of a process which was neither fair, nor just, or transparent.”
Khashoggi — a royal family insider turned critic — was killed and dismembered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, in a case that tarnished the reputation of the de facto Saudi ruler Prince Mohammed.
A critic of the crown prince, the 59-year-old Khashoggi was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials. His remains have not been found.
Turkey on Monday said the Saudi court ruling did not meet global expectations.
“We still don’t know what happened to Khashoggi’s body, who wanted him dead or if there were local collaborators – which casts doubt on the credibility of the legal proceedings,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency.
He urged Saudi authorities to cooperate with Turkey’s own investigation into the killing.
Riyadh has described the murder as a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and a UN special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
‘Last nail in coffin’
Callamard criticised the fact that “high-level officials” behind the murder have “walked free from the start”, and that Prince Mohammed has remained protected against “any kind of meaningful scrutiny”.
In December, a Saudi court exonerated two of the crown prince’s top aides over the murder — deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s media czar Saud al-Qahtani.
Both aides were part of Prince Mohammed’s tight-knit inner circle and were formally sacked over the killing.
“Since the beginning, there was never any intent to hold those responsible to account, only repeated attempts to cover it up,” Ines Osman, director of the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group, told AFP.
“This verdict is the last nail in the coffin, saying ‘the case is now closed’.”
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also condemned the verdict, with its secretary-general Christophe Deloire telling AFP the opaque trial “did not respect the elementary principles of justice”.
The Washington Post reported last year that Khashoggi’s children, including his son Salah, had received multi-million-dollar homes and were being paid thousands of dollars per month by the authorities.
Salah rejected the report, denying discussing a financial settlement with Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian rulers.
In July, 20 Saudi suspects including Assiri and Qahtani went on trial in absentia in Turkey.
The former top aides were formally charged in March with “instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment”.
The Turkish fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Monday branded a Saudi court ruling overturning five death sentences in his 2018 murder a “farce”.
“The ruling handed down today in Saudi Arabia again makes a complete mockery of justice,” Hatice Cengiz said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“The international community will not accept this farce”.
The Saudi ruling came after Khashoggi’s sons announced in May that they had “pardoned” the killers, paving the way for a less severe punishment in a case that tarnished the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
None of the defendants were named in what was described as the final court ruling on the case.
“The Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal’s murder,” said Cengiz.
“Who planned it, who ordered it, where is the body? These are the most important questions that remain totally unanswered,” she wrote.
Khashoggi, 59, was an insider-turned-critic who wrote for The Washington Post before he was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his wedding to Cengiz.