Briefing 21 September 2020


King Salman and MBS: convergence or increasing divergence?

As a powerful and influential prince, Salman Bin AbdulAziz was heavily involved in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and known throughout political circles as a conservative with unwavering support for the Palestinian cause. While his son Mohamed Bin Salman, now the Crown Prince, has taken over the administration of the kingdom and become the central figure in all decision-making, King Salman has on the rare occasion intervened to overrule his son, as in the case of purported Saudi cooperation with the Deal of the Century where he side-lined the Crown Prince to affirm Saudi commitment to Palestine, the Khashoggi affair which saw him dispatch senior family members to Ankara and Washington, and tempering the ill treatment of some of the more senior family members. However, as the UAE asserts itself and as Washington pressures Bin Salman for greater concessions on the Arab stance towards Israel, King Salman is reportedly furious at the manner in which the kingdom has been led to encourage normalisation and align with the UAE.

This briefing looks at the extent to which King Salman remains in control of policy in the kingdom, to what extent he has leverage over the Crown Prince, and to what extent Saudi Arabia’s policies on issues including Iran, Qatar, Palestine, and relations with Washington, are his policies as opposed to those of the Crown Prince.

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Israel and UAE gulfs apart on normalisation priorities

Washington, Tel Aviv, and the UAE all have very difference reasons for pursuing normalisation of ties. The UAE has been driven by a desire to wield Israel against its rivals in the region. However, Israel seeks to woo UAE rivals Turkey and Qatar and target Iran, while the UAE seeks to woo Iran and target Turkey and Qatar. Mohamed Bin Zayed does not appear entirely assured of the benefits of normalisation, reflected in his absence from the signing ceremony in Washington.

This briefing explores the impetus for UAE normalisation of ties.

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Competing peace plans in Libya hamper political process

There are at least three different political processes by three different international ‘orbits’ operating independently but in parallel to one another in Libya. Washington and Berlin, Turkey and Russia, and France and the UAE, are all pursuing political processes although not entirely to secure the same outcome. The result has been the facilitating of an environment conducive for increased unilateral action by individual factions that have inevitably undermined the established umbrella organisations that are the GNA and the Eastern-based government.

This briefing explores the impact of the competing political peace processes on the current dynamics in Libya while assessing the reasons for the changes in some of the stances of the international powerbrokers.

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Turkey wants to talk. Egypt is unenthusiastic.

"Turkey has been launching overtures to Egypt. Egypt however remains unenthusiastic. Cairo believes Turkey is talking now only because its initial euphoria after rescuing the GNA (that saw Turkish officials mock Cairo's subsequent bid for talks) is now giving way to very difficult realities."

UAE is only as strong as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are weak

UAE's meteoric rise and ability to assert itself in the manner it does today is a result of unprecedented weakness of Saudi Arabia and Egypt that UAE has exploited effectively. UAE is only as strong as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are weak. And should the two larger neighbours find some stability, it is very unlikely they will take kindly to being 'led' by Abu Dhabi. This is one of the driving factors behind normalisation; a desire to lean on Israel should Egypt and Saudi eventually settle enough to start asserting themselves again.