AFP: Saudi Arabia Open Checkbook Diplomacy with Allies, no more

Saudi Arabia is scaling back its famed chequebook diplomacy, a longstanding policy of splashing petro-dollars in exchange for influence, which observers say has yielded few tangible gains. For decades, the wealthy kingdom funneled billions in aid to its allies – and to its enemies’ enemies – in a bid to bolster its position as an Arab powerhouse and leader of the Muslim world, AFP reported on Wednesday. But as plummeting demand has sapped its oil revenues, the kingdom is rethinking old alliances that Saudi observers say have swallowed their cash while offering little in return, it indicated.

A swathe of regional countries, from Jordan and Lebanon to Egypt, Palestine and Pakistan, have been the top recipients of Saudi aid over the past decade, said Middle East expert Yasmine Farouk. “The dual economic impact of the coronavirus and low oil prices, however, may lead Saudi Arabia to restructure and rationalise its aid,” she added.

“The country is already seeking to end the perception of being an ATM.” Saudi Arabia began reducing its aid to Pakistan and Lebanon. “Saudi Arabia will not continue to pay Lebanon, and the Lebanese have to shoulder their responsibilities towards their country,” Saudi columnist Khalid al-Sulaiman wrote recently for the pro-government Okaz newspaper.

“It is no longer possible for Saudi Arabia to continue paying billions to Lebanon in the morning and receive insults at night. it added “This situation is no longer compatible with the new Saudi foreign policy, as Saudi money does not fall from the sky or grow in the desert.”

Party is over

Saudi Arabia also appears frustrated with Pakistan after the longstanding ally pushed Riyadh to take a firm stand on the disputed region of Kashmir and threatened to take the issue to other Muslim forums, it indicated. Such a threat is particularly disconcerting for Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam’s holiest sites and views itself as the leader of the Muslim world.

The kingdom recently recalled $1 billion of a $3 billion loan from cash-strapped Pakistan, and an expired multi-billion dollar oil credit facility to Islamabad has not been renewed, a diplomatic source told AFP. “Pakistani elites have a bad habit of taking Saudi support for granted, given what Saudi has done for Pakistan over the decades,” tweeted Ali Shihabi, a Saudi author and analyst.
“Well the party is over, and Pakistan needs to deliver value to this relationship. It’s no longer a free lunch.”

Riyadh’s ties with Pakistan have historically been “very warm” but the relationship has been lopsided, said Saudi prince Talal bin Mohammad al-Faisal. “It (has) only benefited one side in ‘real world’ terms,” he tweeted.

“That side is Pakistan.”

The War on Yemen

Egypt and Pakistan had rejected a Saudi invitation to participate in the war on Yemen when Riyadh was relying on ground military support from the two countries. That sentiment was echoed in 2018 by US President Donald Trump when he hosted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office and held up a chart listing military hardware sales worth billions to Riyadh.

“Take their money,” Trump told NBC News the following year, justifying backing the kingdom’s rulers after journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder sparked global uproar. States that have traditionally benefited from Saudi largesse, including Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, have “already seen instances in which aid was frozen, decreased or cut off”, it concluded.

Source: al-masirah


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