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Two sides to the same evil coin. Who is for and against Mohammed Bin Salman at the G20 Summit. Pay very, very, very close attention!

Two sides to the same evil coin. Who is for and against Mohammed Bin Salman at the G20 Summit. Pay very, very, very close attention!

Once feted, Saudi crown prince faces cold shoulder abroad

Anuj Chopra. AFP. November 28, 2018

Riyadh (AFP) – Once feted on the world stage, Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince faces the cold shoulder abroad as he struggles to shrug off the lingering stigma of a critical journalist’s murder. Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been on an Arab tour before he attends the Group of 20 summit in Argentina on Friday, where he faces world leaders who have strongly condemned Jamal Khashoggi’s killing last month in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

The country’s de facto ruler has brushed aside the international pressure, attempting to use the overseas visits — followed by a whirlwind domestic tour –- to shore up his tarnished reputation and reinforce relationships with allies. “The question is who among global leaders will agree to stand with him publicly,” said H.A. Hellyer, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“I suspect his appearances will be carefully staged to avoid embarrassment.”

The prince faces the grim prospect of being treated as an “outcast” by some leaders at the two-day G-20 summit, said Bessma Momani, a professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo.

“Group photos may be unavoidable, but liberal democratic leaders from countries such as Germany and Canada will not want to be seen shaking his hand,” Momani said.

Former Spanish King Juan Carlos faced scathing domestic criticism over his handshake with the prince in Abu Dhabi, his first stop in a regional tour which also included close allies Bahrain and Egypt as well as Tunisia. An image of the laughter-filled encounter at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last Sunday was dubbed by a conservative Spanish daily as “the photo of shame”.

But the 33-year-old prince, widely known as MBS, used the regional tour as something of a victory lap after US President Donald Trump — who has praised Saudi Arabia as a “truly spectacular ally” — threw his weight behind him. Trump’s emphatic support came despite the Central Intelligence Agency’s reported assessment that the prince –- who controls all major levers of power in the Saudi government — was behind the killing.

“It should come as no surprise that allies like Trump, China’s Xi (Jinping) and Russia’s (Vladimir) Putin will have no qualms in signalling that they are absolutely fine to continue doing business with MBS,” said Momani.

– Frosty reception –

But some officials in the prince’s entourage are bracing for a frosty reception at the G-20 summit.

Ahead of the prince’s visit, Human Rights Watch urged Argentine prosecutors to consider bringing criminal charges against Prince Mohammed over alleged war crimes in a brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen and his possible complicity in Khashoggi’s murder.

It was unclear whether Argentine prosecutors would act on the request.

Trump also faces growing pressure from US lawmakers, some of whom are demanding a probe into his financial ties to determine whether the president has any vested interest in backing the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis were to brief American senators Wednesday on Saudi Arabia amid mounting bipartisan concern about the kingdom.

The prince’s supporters fear that world leaders could leverage his weakened international position to gain concessions from the kingdom, as it struggles with a slump in oil prices.

The prince is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has kept international pressure mounting on the kingdom by saying the orders for Khashoggi’s killing came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government.

“In the event Erdogan meets with MBS on the sidelines of G-20, it will be indicative that some sort of a deal has been reached, which could include Gulf reconciliation and concrete steps on how to wind down the war in Yemen,” said Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst based in Washington.

“However, a potential Saudi-Turkish deal is unlikely to shield MBS from US Congressional investigations into the Khashoggi murder.”

– ‘He’s here to stay’ –

In a foretaste of expected acrimony at G-20, the prince faced hundreds of protesters Tuesday during a brief stopover in Tunisia, with many shouting “Go away assassin!” and some clutching red-stained chain saws -– a reference to Khashoggi’s gruesome murder.

The hostility stands in stark contrast to the prince’s month-long tour of the United States earlier this year, where he received something of a rockstar reception and hobnobbed with business titans such as Disney chief Bob Iger and Apple’s Tim Cook. In PR-slicked campaigns, the crown prince had marketed himself as a liberaliser seeking to remake his conservative petro-state, while amassing power to a degree unseen by previous rulers.

The global fallout over the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the prince, appears to have torpedoed that effort. But it has not so far has threatened to unseat the prince amid his tightening grip on military and security agencies and a ruthless crackdown on political rivals. The prince’s supporters say the fact that he stepped out of the kingdom amid a crisis is an indication that he is firmly in control. “The prince is trying to show his domestic and international audience that he’s leaving the palace and confident he’ll return to control it,” said Momani. “He wants to show he’s here to stay for decades as the next ruler of Saudi Arabia.”

Why Saudi Crown Prince MBS Won’t Be a Total Pariah at the G-20

Bessma Momani. Time. November 29, 2018

An annual ritual at the G-20 meetings is the group photo where leaders of 20 of the world’s biggest economies stand together to display their unity in purpose: keep the global economy steady.

Like many family photos, it’s not unusual to see awkward moments and uncomfortable poses between leaders who are actually seething with acrimony. And at this year’s G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires, has one notable attendee who some will be avoiding: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The cloud of doubt surrounding the role of bin Salman, also known as MBS, in the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October continues to persist despite adamant denial by the Saudi government. Western intelligence services have reportedly heard a gruesome tape of Khashoggi being dismembered and killed at the hands of a Saudi hit squad. The CIA has concluded that MBS ordered the killing; and in the court of public opinion, MBS has been tried, convicted and earned the nickname Mr. Bone Saw.

Hours after MBS landed in Argentina for the G-20 summit, a prosecutor in Argentina accepted a request to prosecute him for alleged crimes against humanity. (It’s unlikely to be successful as the Supreme Court would need to rule by Saturday on whether the crown prince has diplomatic immunity.)

Despite that embarrassment, MBS may well see his rightful place at the front row of the G-20 portrait, where leaders of major economic powerhouses typically stand. Saudi Arabia’s recent increase of oil supply onto the international market was welcomed by Donald Trump and global economic analysts fearing an impending global economic slowdown. With a U.S.-China trade war looming, keeping oil prices depressed is generally good news for the G-20. If the summit is about keeping the global economy steady, we can expect the Saudis to take credit for keeping prices low.

As MBS likely turns to his right and left, however, there will be many faces trying to avoid making eye contact with the crown prince. France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau will want to avoid MBS like the plague.

But not all leaders will care about public perception— or even believe in the sanctity of not killing one’s citizens, especially on foreign soil.

Russia’s Vladamir Putin seems to have no shortage of blood on his hands when it comes to eliminating journalists, dissidents, and former spies. Whether Russians are killed meters from the Kremlin or poisoned in sleepy Salisbury in the United Kingdom, Putin and his regime may be impressed by MBS upping the game. Perhaps there’s even street cred for Putin in posing with MBS.

Another leader who is far from being shy about cracking down on dissidents and perceived rivals is Chinese President Xi. From the mass detention of Uighurs in Western China to literally kidnapping and detaining the head of Interpol, President Xi likely sympathizes with the Saudis’ need to contain critics in the name of the national interest. In good Chinese fashion, President Xi would have probably liked the Saudis to be smarter and more discrete about how to take out one of its own. After all, the former head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, had disappeared the same week as Jamal Khashoggi and few headlines have been written about Meng.

While Trump is often a wildcard at world meetings and gatherings, it would come as no surprise if he goes ahead and shakes MBS’ hand and smile for the cameras. After all, Trump has continued to contradict his own intelligence service, support MBS on twitter and in media interviews, and most importantly thanked the Saudis for their continued pumping of oil to keep Trump’s populist base from having to face high prices at the gas station. Unlike many G-20 meetings, this one in Argentina may be hard to forget. Many will look back at that infamous family portrait and say: Remember when MBS had the audacity to flash his wide grin to the cameras, as if the murder of Jamal Khashoggi never happened?

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