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Reports of Saudi Foreign Minister’s purge denied by diplomatic sources – still no word from Riyadh

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Adel al-Jubeir has been replaced as Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister by Muhammad bin Salman’s younger brother.

UPDATE: Some of the sources which originally broke the unverified story are now reporting that the initial information was not true. Riyadh has still not issued any statements on the mater.

Below is the original story:

Unconfirmed reports swirling throughout Arabic and now multi-lingual media are indicating that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has been purged from his job, as part of the controversial political reforms of de-facto ruler Crown Prince Muhammad  bin Salman (MBS).

Riyadh has neither confirmed nor denied the reports at this time, however seeing as they derive from typically reliable sources, it appears that in one way or another, al-Jubeir’s time has come.

Adel al-Jubeir’s diplomatic career began during a comparatively straight forward epoch in Saudi Arabia’s foreign relations. Beginning in 2007, he became the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, during George W. Bush’s second to last year in office.

In 2015, he was promoted to Foreign Minister, thus becoming only the second person to hold the position who was not a member of the House of Saud.

While most of Adel al-Jubeir’s public statements were predicable and hence not incredibly interesting–ranging from ‘Assad must go’, to the “dangers” of Iran being Iran, more recently, he accompanied King Salman during his visit to Russia. There, al-Jubeir offered some statements that may have felt foreign to a former Saudi Ambassador to the United States.

As I wrote at the time,

“Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir then offered warm words for his Russian hosts. The Saudi Foreign Minister spoke of reaching “new horizons which we couldn’t even imagine in the past” and thanked the leaders of Russian government for making this possible at many levels.

Continuing the warm tone, Al-Jubeir stated that Saudi considers Russia to be a neighbourly country as “we are not far from one another” and that furthermore, “we have shared episodes in history”.

The most important element to Al-Jubeir’s speech came next when he said that both Russia and Saudi do not interfere in the domestic issues of other nations. He further stated that both countries reject the idea of “imposing strange and alien principles unto other societies”.

While this claim is factually dubious at best seeing as Saudi is well known for spending millions on spreading Wahhabi ideology throughout the world, the intent of the statement is more important than its factual merits.

Al-Jubeir’s statement represents a clear inference to the United States, which for decades has exercised a foreign policy designed to put in friendly regimes throughout the world which are putatively modelled on the US style of governance. While Saudi has tended to support such efforts, the statement criticising the US model of foreign policy, made while in Russia, is a clear sign that even Saudi Arabia seeks to distance itself from the increasingly failed US geo-political framework.

Additionally, the statement also shows that as an ally of the US, Saudi rejects the Russiagate theory, by affirming that far from meddling in countries like the US, Russia doesn’t have an interest in modifying the internal workings of any state. In this sense, Saudi distanced its public image from the US by parsing Russian pragmatism while rejecting the mainstay of US propaganda against Russia over the last year.

In many ways this statement was the highest compliment a US ally could give to Russia. It was a clear sign that even a country as entrenched in the US geo-political system as Saudi Arabia is serious about diversifying its geo-political and geo-economic strategy”.

Saudi FM offers thinly veiled criticism of US during press conference with Sergey Lavrov

Adel al-Jubeir’s words in Moscow were indicative of the subtle but unmistakable shift in Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Policy that al-Jubeir himself may not have fully been prepared to embrace.

As a member of the ‘old guard’, he was far more comfortable threatening Lebanon, Iran and Syria than making overtures to Russia, even though Muhammad bin Salman’s rise to power is characterised by a complex attempt to attract Russian and Chinese patronage of his Vision 2030 economic expansion programme, while still retaining the US as an ally to back up anti-Iranian and anti-Houthi positions.

The fact that recently the US has told Saudi to lift the blockade on Yemen, means that actors in both Riyadh and Washington seek to exculpate themselves from the disastrous Saudi intervention (backed by the west), in the Yemen conflict. It is still not clear if this was a coordinated effort (behind the scenes) or if Washington and Riyadh are both racing against each other to wash their hands of the Yemeni blood they both played a part in shedding.

Through all of this, Adel al-Jubeir has not done anything specifically sinister other than to repeat the policies coming out of MBS’s office.

His suspected purge therefore is more likely to do with internal matters of MBS wanting to usher in a new guard that is loyal to him personally, first and foremost, than it is to do with any specific failure of al-Jubeir. Hence, it is no surprise that reports also indicate that al-Jubeir has been replaced by MBS’s younger brother Khalid bin Salman, who is in his late 20s.

Many will rush to claim that al-Jubeir has been purged due to his inability to stand-up to Donald Trump’s recent betrayal of Palestine. It is true that Palestinians have gathered to burn Saudi flags along with US and Israeli fags during the ‘Day of Rage’. However, it is MBS himself who has become ever more public about courting pro-Zionist opinion in the US and consequently the Saudi condemnation of Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem/al-Quds as an Israeli capital has been far more muted than that which is coming from the Nothern bloc of the Middle East, including Syria, Turkey, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

In the first post-ISIS battle between the North and South of the Middle East: The North has won

Nevertheless, if al-Jubeir has been purged, the timing works in MBS’s favour as the optics on the Arab street would to a limited degree, show that one Saudi has been forced out of a highly visible foreign policy “making” position in the wake of what the vast majority of Arabs feel is a monumental insult.

Thus, MBS has found a way to avoid doing anything for Palestine, while showing the world that something has been done. As a result, Saudi’s relationship with Russia, China and new East Asian partners may continue to expand while MBS decides if he should, in the long-term, restrain has anti-Iranian, anti-Shi’a bark to match his ultimately worthless bite.

MBS appears to have gotten what he wants–using an internationally delicate situation to continue his internal purges for no one’s gain but his own. Once again Saudi Arabia has done nothing for Palestine.

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