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What Mohammed Bin Salman and Prince Andrew Could Teach Each Other
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Prince Andrew and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia have both had a bad week.

On the very same day that Prince Andrew was giving his disastrous interview explaining his relationship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the crown prince – often referred to as MbS – was hearing from international bankers about the failure of his bid to sell part of Aramco, the state oil company, for a high price on the international markets. The sale had been heralded as the moment when Saudi Arabia would use its oil wealth to exalt its status as a world power.

The two princes have many characteristics in common: both have a reputation for arrogance, ignoring expert advice and showing startlingly poor judgement in taking decisions. The result has been a dismally unsuccessful record for both men.

In the case of Prince Andrew, these failures have been on a limited scale thanks to his relative powerlessness beyond his immediate circle. But ever since his elderly father became king of Saudi Arabia in January 2015, MbS has been the effective ruler of his country.

And it is his performance in this role, his power enhanced by his appointment as crown prince in 2017, that explains in part why international investors baulked at buying even a small piece – only 1.5 per cent was on offer – of Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, at the high overall valuation of $2 trillion placed on it by the Saudis.

One factor fuelling their caution will be their perception that foreign investment in Saudi Arabia faces an enhanced political risk under MbS. His radical measures at home and abroad, so very different from traditional Saudi policies, have seldom succeeded and have sometimes ended in calamity.

These new departures introduced by MbS start in 2015 when, as defence minister, he launched a war in Yemen that was supposed to swiftly defeat the Houthi movement that held the capital Sanaa and much of the country.

Almost five years later, the Houthis are still there, but 100,000 Yemenis have been killed and 24 million of them – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance. Lack of clean water sources, and the collapse of the medical system, both allegedly targeted by Saudi bombers, has led to 700,000 suspected cholera cases. The UN describes the food and health crisis in Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet.

At home, MbS had claimed that he would reform Saudi Arabia’s medieval and oppressive social norms, producing a more tolerant and freer society. But such modernisation as there has been, such as allowing women to drive, has turned out to be cosmetic, while repression has been all too real.

A planned expansion in the rights of women was well publicised abroad, but a Human Rights Watch report issued earlier this month, entitled The High Cost of Change: Repression Under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reforms, tells a different and much grimmer story, saying that “authorities had tortured four prominent Saudi women activists while in an unofficial detention centre, including by administering electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs, forcible hugging and kissing and groping.”

As the price of their release, the activists were asked to sign a document and appear on television saying they had not been tortured.

Other reforms have followed the same pattern. In April 2016, MbS launched Vision 2030, an ambitious scheme to modernise the Saudi economy that attracted international plaudits. But the reality of the economic changes to be introduced became clear in November 2017 when leading businessmen and royal family members were confined, some being reportedly abused, as part of an alleged corruption inquiry in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.

A few are still detained, while others were only released after handing over part or all of their business interests.

For a long period, MbS was treated gently by foreign governments greedy for Saudi contracts and by the foreign media, which bought into a PR picture of MbS as breaking the bonds of an archaic society. President Trump made a triumphal visit to Riyadh soon after his election and frequently tweeted his approval of all that MbS was doing – including his incarceration of the businessmen.

In terms of publicity, all went well enough until 2 October 2018 when a Saudi death squad murdered the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The crime is now admitted by the Saudi authorities, though they deny that MbS knew about the killing in advance – something asserted to the contrary by US senators briefed by US intelligence.

The Khashoggi killing and the grisly dismemberment of his body released a flood of criticism from which MbS has yet to recover. The dead journalist had said the year before his assassination that the crown prince had “promised an embrace of social and economic reform … but all I see now is the recent wave of arrests”.

The tainting of Saudi Arabia’s reputation by the Khashoggi affair, and the torrent of criticism that followed, played a role in deterring foreign investors from buying into Aramco at the price the Saudis wanted.

But what really undermined Saudi Arabia’s reputation for stability was the surprise Iranian/Houthi drone and missile attack on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities in September. As significant as the attack itself was Mr Trump’s refusal to retaliate against Iran. What had for so long seemed like a gold-plated US guarantee of Saudi security turned out to be nothing of the sort.

MbS is not going to be displaced because of these mistakes and miscalculations: when he was appointed heir to his father in 2017, the royal court purged and took over the entire Saudi security apparatus. On the other hand, the long list of self-destructive actions by the Saudi authorities in the last five years has left the country much less stable than it once appeared.

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Prince Andrew’s take on the career of his fellow royal in Saudi Arabia would make interesting reading. Perhaps he looks on MbS’s absolute power and gigantic wealth with envy; he may even approve of the rigour with which his counterpart asserts his authority. This is not pure guesswork.

Andrew used to be a regular visitor to Saudi Arabia’s near neighbour and de facto protectorate, Bahrain, praising it as “as source of hope for many people in the world”. These kind words contrast with the report of an independent inquiry into the crushing of the Arab Spring protests there in 2011 which details 18 different torture techniques inflicted on detained protesters.

A British diplomat stationed in Bahrain at the time of a Prince Andrew visit later wrote that the thank-you letters he sent to his hosts after one visit to Bahrain – comparing the size of his plane to theirs – made for cringe-making reading.

In one significant respect, however, Prince Andrew is setting a good example for MbS by standing down from his public duties. Doubtless, the Saudi crown prince will be wondering, after the failures and fiascos of the last five years, if he should consider following the same path.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. Sean says:

    Given the new generation of attractive line of succession royals, to who Andrew is uncle, Andrew would be semi retired by now anyway. Yes he got conned by Epstein but Epstein was a world class con man.

    Unless you are in Britain and America, police interrogation will routinely get PHYSICAL unless you cooperate.

    No country’s leader could stay in power if he acquiesced in an enemy takeover of a neighbouring friendly state, and there has been fighting in Yemen for five decades now.

    A Western style state would not last 15 minutes in the Middle East, we should not criticise too much. And if Andrew helped get much needed contracts for British industry then he struck exactly the right note.

    Maybe MbS was given supreme power while he was too young, but it is impossible for outsiders to know what is really going on in that country. One thing is for sure, America is not going to allow the Saud regieme to be destabilized by a US military presence against an Iranian threat any more than it did over Saddam’s one . If there is popular unrest in Saudi Arabia the US will attack Iran in order to be able to get the ‘infidel’ American army out of Saudi.

    • Replies: @Anon1999
  2. Prince Andrew, Mohammed bin Salman, and Bush, Obama and Trump all belong to the rarefied air of the Global Elite, the first two by birth, the others by hook or crook. Andrew can do what he wants, just like Hunter Biden, with no real repercussions; he even provided cover for MSM not reporting on Epstein’s sex trafficking. Only Acosta was somewhat honest about that, so he lost his job.
    The Bushes long cultivated relationships with the Saudis, and were linked to Sunni Wahhabi terrorists and their creations. The genocide in Yemen is ignored by the world. The US support for the slaughter, first by Obama after his National Emergency against 2012 (and sanctions still ongoing), and then by Trump, to keep selling the war profiteering MIC’s ware, cancels any moral authority left in America’s global hegemony.
    The endless coverage of Khashoggi is misguided. Yes, Khashoggi was also from this Elite globalist class, a nephew of one of the most important arms dealers in the MidEast, and part of the privileged Saudi circle, thus doubly special. But if you betray your absolute rulers in the MidEast, and Khashoggi was likely a CIA asset and had ties to Turkey and other MidEast countries, you can expect to become a martyr and example, even if a member of the Elite. Far worse was the droning of the American cleric and his children one at a time in multiple operations in Yemen, without due process. Of course that was hardly covered by the MSM, partly because it was instituted by Obama, but mostly because no Global Elites were involved. As Ghislaine Maxwell noted about the children she and Epstein trafficked, these are trash, throwaway people, like 90% of Americans.

    • Agree: Bill Jones
  3. unit472 says:

    MBS has to actually rule a nation in a tough neighborhood. All Queen Elizabeth’s family has to do is behave themselves and live in luxury at her various palaces. The Japanese Royals manage that. William and Kate manage it. Why can’t Charles, Andrew and Harry?

  4. Trinity says:

    Call me crazy but I still say Epstein is alive somewhere. The alleged suicide/homicide or whatever you want to call it was a HOAX IMO. My guess is there is a bunch of Epsteins and Ghislane Maxwells and more “honey pots” all over the world operated by the men in small hats. You have to wonder how long “our” leaders have been compromised because Mossad has the dirt on them. This could go back decades or even a century.

  5. EoinW says:

    It was a Houthi attack, why can’t a professional journalist stick to a clear fact? Iran may have helped supply them with weapons and technology – like the US arms the Saudis. Does any western journalist describe the bombing of a Yemeni school bus or hospital as a US/Saudi attack?

    My take on why the Houthi haven’t continued the attacks and turned Arabia into a wasteland – something they are perfectly entitled to do – is because the Iranians are holding them back. Iran doesn’t wish to risk igniting a regional war. Quite in contrast to Israel which never lets a day pass without trying to start such a war.

  6. Just as a matter of interest, some while back, I read that the Crown Prince was also a frequent visitor to Epstein’s establishment.

    He was said to be as frequent a visitor as Bill Clinton who is recorded with 26 lights aboard the Lolita Express.

    The US, along with Israel, is so heavily invested in the Crown Prince that almost nothing could bring him down.

    The dramatic Houthi attacks on the Sadis were a vivid demonstration to the whole world, not just of the poor Saudi judgment in starting war in Yemen but of Saudi military and management incompetence.

    I don’t claim to really know the background, but some odd things have recently happened in Saudi Arabia.

    The old King’s chief bodyguard, an important figure, was murdered in Jeddah. At the same time a big fire broke out at the new high-speed rail station there.

    America’s sending all those extra troops and missiles is suspicious. There simply is no realistic threat from Iran.

    Are the American troops and weapons a Praetorian guard against internal problems?

    Or do they represent pressure on Saudi Arabia?

    We have more questions about that dark place than answers.

  7. Bianca says:

    I have seen many an “enhanced” takes on Saudi MBS, but this one takes a cake. There are TOO MANY FACTUAL ERRORS, in dates and events to enumerate in a comment.

    The author has lost every credibility with me. There are problems with Saudi Arabia, but the extent to which the author blames MBS — cannot pass the straight face test. We get it. Prince has been obstinate, and was set up many a times with rather clumsy affairs that did not stick. He has resisted to be a sacrificial lamb in Iran saga, and it is of course infuriating. Anyone believing that no defense systems that US has in the area failed to see drones/cruise missiles coming? And they should have passed right next to our heavily guarded Fifth Fleet in Manama.

    So please, some of us are informed, and follow up on details, so such crude stew is hard to swallow.

    What this author, and other amen corner want is dangerous for a country that is geographically totally defenseless. With its desalinization plants and water system exposed above the ground, a smallest disruption would cause catastrophe.

    Even if he steps down, you will not get what you want .

    As for Saudi public auction of small Aramco shares, it was not placed on any foreign stock exchange. There is a date for offers to Saudi citizens, then other investors.

    The fact that NY or London hoped for this juicy prize
    and were disappointed — is not Saudi problem.

    What Saudi Arabia and Gulf need is get out of Iran trap. Any military action there will result in damage to Gulf states and their vassal status.

    This is why they are not reacting to false flags and outright damage.

    But we should think hard of what we wish — it may actually come true.

  8. Laws are more for little people. The question about Andrew is not so much whether he had sex with Virginia Roberts, but whether he paid her, or whether he knew she was being paid by Epstein to have sex with him, in which case a crime was committed, she being under the age of 18.

    Of course he denies every meeting her, and I am sure that thousands of people must have wanted to have their picture taken with a member of the royal family, and he might not remember.

    But even if a crime was committed, how would it ever be proved? So there is very little likelihood of Prince Andrew ever being charged, what with him being royal and not just an ordinary sex tourist for whom the laws are made.

    And is everything what it appears? If Roberts was a female minor of 17 years, how was she able to travel overseas with an unrelated man without the consent of her parents? Was she “trafficked” or was she an enthusiastic participant? We can only guess, and with Epstein dead, the most important witness can never be cross examined.

  9. anonymous[191] • Disclaimer says:

    Prince Andrew should move to Saudi Arabia and join their royal family. He’s got all the qualifications.

  10. Anon1999 says:
    @Sean

    “A Western style state would not last 15 minutes in the Middle East”

    A great reason right there for restricting Arab-Muslim immigration to the West.

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