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Saudi human rights under new spotlight in Biden era

THE Trump administration, according to President Biden’s campaign team, “wrote Saudi Arabia a blank cheque.” It accused it of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and prolonging a disastrous war in Yemen where tens of thousands have been killed in six years of conflict.

The new team in the White House has promised a complete reset of relations with Saudi Arabia where human rights will now feature prominently

President Biden has signaled he will end US military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Already, after just one week into his term, the US has suspended billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, pending a review.

Saudi Arabia is America’s closest security partner in the Arab world, a vital strategic ally in confronting the expansion of Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East, and a major customer for US arms sale.

On human rights within the kingdom, Saudi officials point to a recent dramatic drop in executions. The top team around the all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, (known as MBS) is clearly aware of the negative effect human rights stories are having on the country’s global image.

MBS”, says the British MP Crispin Blunt, “is getting contradictory advice from those around him but this [emphasis on human rights by Joe Biden] gives another opportunity to help the pragmatists advising him that Saudi Arabia’s public image matters.”