Reformer Saudi Prince Begins First Trip Abroad to U.S., U.K., Egypt

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C-R) welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C-L) upon his arrival in Cairo on March 4, 2018
AFP HO

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) began his first trip outside the kingdom in his official capacity as future king this week, aiming to woo support from leaders in Egypt, the U.K., and the U.S. amid sweeping reforms he is implementing across his country.

The Guardian reports:

When he arrives in London on Wednesday, Prince Mohammed will be received as head-of-state-in-waiting, and will travel to Windsor Castle for a dinner with the Queen. As a senior member of Britain’s most important trading partner in the Middle East, he will also arrive with a twin agenda: as head of a lucrative trade mission, and as a leader looking for validation after a checkered debut year in foreign affairs.

Elsewhere, in diplomatic and regional circles, Prince Mohammed’s embrace of Donald Trump and his embattled son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been described as “a beginner’s mistake,” which has undermined efforts to counter Iran.

The first stop of his tour was Egypt, where the prince arrived on Sunday and was greeted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as he got off his plane.

Al Jazeera reports:

His visit comes a day after Egypt’s top court upheld a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The agreement was first announced during a visit to Cairo in April 2016 by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, during which he announced a multi-billion-dollar package of investments and soft loans for Egypt.

Following the signing of the deal, widespread protests broke out across Egypt. Opponents of the agreement said it amounted to selling off Egypt’s sovereign powers and that it violated the constitution, which bars the surrender of any territory.

Along with its allies the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia has reportedly provided billions of dollars to support Sisi.

The 32-year-old future Saudi king reportedly discussed trade, the ongoing conflict in Yemen—where a kingdom-led coalition has been combating Iranian-allied Houthis since 2015—and rival Iran with the Egyptian president.

MBS is expected to travel to the U.K. next.

According to the Week, the British are expected to roll out the red carpet for the crown prince, whose father has granted him free rein to implement some of the most sweeping reforms for Saudi that the conservative Muslim country has experienced in almost 40 years.

Some of those changes include a crackdown on corruption that has swept in members of the royal family, and even clerics, as well as changes to what women are allowed to do.

In the U.K., Crown Prince Salman is scheduled to meet with the queen for dinner at Windsor Castle before meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Week reports:

The talks are aimed at strengthening defense, security and economic ties between the U.K. and Saudi Arabia, but “given how little we know about him and how important our relations with Saudi Arabia are held to be, it is fair to say that breaths are being held on both sides,” the Times reports.

Demonstrations are set to take place outside Downing Street, with campaigners calling on May to challenge Prince Mohammed on human rights abuses and to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

U.S. President Trump has welcomed the reforms at the hands of the prospective king.

MBS’s trip comes while U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia continues to be embroiled in the ongoing war in Yemen that has killed thousands, including many civilians, left millions in the grip of famine, and has cost the kingdom an estimated $8 billion.

Saudi Arabia is expected to continue working with the United States to prevent Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.

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