Saudi crown prince visits Algeria, Mauritania after G20 summit
TUNIS - After participating in the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz travelled to Mauritania and Algeria, extending a Middle East tour that included four countries before the international economic meeting.
The Saudi crown prince was greeted at the airport in Algiers by Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia.
“The visit comes within the framework of strengthening the special relations between the two countries and the two peoples and giving a new impetus to bilateral cooperation,” Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s office said in a statement.
Algerian analysts said the crown prince’s Arab tour highlighted the fierce competition between Saudi Arabia and its allies against a de facto alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, Turkey and Qatar.
Most mainstream secularist parties, as well as dominant Salafist groups, backed the Algerian government’s invitation to Crown Prince Mohammed but leftist groups expressed opposition to the December 2-3 visit.
Before the G20 summit, Crown Prince Mohammed visited the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia. Before reaching Algeria, he visited Mauritania where he was welcomed by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in Nouakchott.
“Mauritania condemns the allegations campaign with ill intent behind it that is staged against our brothers… and hails the kingdom’s leadership role it plays in the service of Arab and Muslim causes and in the defence of security and peace in the world,” Ould Abdel Aziz said.
Mauritania was the first Maghreb country to voice support for Saudi Arabia after Riyadh was severely criticised following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Much like Tunisia and Algeria, Nouakchott condemned the killing of Khashoggi but warned against political campaigns aimed at destabilising Saudi Arabia and undermining its international standing.
Mauritania and Saudi Arabia signed three accords to upgrade trade and other economic relations, said a statement released at the end of the crown prince’s visit. Riyadh also pledged to build a 300-bed hospital in Mauritania.
Both countries consider the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates as a threat to the Arab region.
In Tunisia, Mauritania and Algeria, Islamists were the most vociferous critics of Crown Prince Mohammed’s visits.
In a stark contrast to his welcome to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February, Abderrazak Makri, head of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Movement for Society and Peace, took issue with the Algerian government for inviting the Saudi crown prince.
He had assailed intellectuals and human rights activists who opposed Erdogan as “traitors.”
“Why is there such a duality in Makri’s view? Because Makri is part of the Brotherhood like Erdogan and because Crown Prince Mohammed is a leader from Saudi Arabia,” wrote Algerian political writer Abed Chared.
“It is a divide that risks down the road of redrawing the map of the Middle East and North Africa. It is the result of a geopolitical competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia and its allies. The ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed has accelerated and intensified that evolution.”
Algerian analysts said Crown Prince Mohammed’s participation at the G20 a success. They commented that the reception he received in Buenos Aires vindicated his international outreach to counter pressures on Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s killing.
“Crown Prince Mohammed’s… participation at the G20 restored the reputation and prestige of Saudi Arabia on the world stage,” said Algerian political writer Redouane Mahmoudi. “Several days before the convening of G20, people imagined that Argentine authorities would not host him.”
While in Argentina, the crown prince met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “China firmly supports Saudi Arabia in its drive for economic diversification and social reform and will continue to stick together with Saudi Arabia on issues involving their core interests,” China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying.
The crown prince also discussed investments and economic partnerships with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The enthusiastic greeting Crown Prince Mohammed received from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin drew much attention. There was no sit-down meeting US President Donald Trump, the way he met with Canadian and UK leaders, but a White House statement said Trump “exchanged pleasantries” with Crown Prince Mohammed. Saudi state media described interactions between the two as “friendly.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on December 1 that he had “read every piece of intelligence that is in the possession of United States government” but saw “no direct evidence” linking the crown prince to the Khashoggi’s death.
James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, wrote in his blog on December 2: “The G20 summit suggests Crown Prince Mohammed and the kingdom may have taken their first step towards putting the Khashoggi affair behind them. Even if US lawmakers slap sanctions on the kingdom, the prince is likely to remain secure in his position as king-in-waiting.”
“Keeping Khashoggi in the headlines will prove increasingly difficult as it seems much of the world has signalled that it is moving on,” added Dorsey.
Lamine Ghanmi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Tunis.