It should be remembered that for nearly seven decades, Saudi Arabia lived under the protection of the U.S. umbrella, and that the alliance, forged in 1945 between Franklin Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud, seemed immutable.
Assad to Zelensky
Today, Saudi Arabia is renewing diplomatic relations with Iran under the supervision of China, a newcomer to diplomatic mediation in the Middle East. The kingdom reinstated Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League at the recent summit in Jeddah, and forced its Arab colleagues hand by inviting Ukrainian President Zelensky to speak at the same summit. This week, Saudi Arabia also received a visit from the Russian Interior Minister, a man placed on the U.S. sanction list.
This is geopolitical "polyamory," contrary to the previous exclusivity of power blocs.
Jeddah is also the location for negotiations between the two military factions fighting in Sudan, mediation organized in close cooperation with the United States.
This 360-degree effort illustrates what the political scientist Bertrand Badie calls geopolitical "polyamory", contrary to the previous exclusivity of power blocs.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the sideline of the 32nd Arab Summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on May 19, 2023
Saudi Press Agency / ZUMA
The Wahhabi kingdom's coffers are full thanks to last year's surge in energy prices, giving it free rein to do as it pleases. The young prince, at just 37 years old, got off to a bad start in his quasi-reign when his father, King Salman, handed him the reins of power in 2015. He launched into the senseless war in Yemen, then into the equally ill-advised blockade of Qatar, and got tangled up in the disastrous Khashoggi affair.
MBS has now committed billions of dollars to an authoritarian modernization of his kingdom, placing it at the center of the Middle Eastern diplomatic scene. He stands with the Russians when it suits his oil business, with the West by extending an invitation to Zelensky, and with the Chinese when it comes to business.
At a time of spiraling geopolitical chaos, this is daring to say the least. The risk, of course, is that the Saudi Prince winds up lost among shifting alliances, never able to find the driving purpose of all his diplomacy.
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