As other Arab states ran to congratulate the Democratic challenger, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabia kingdom’s de facto ruler, stayed silent for hours on the U.S. vote, even as he sent warm words to the President of Tanzania on his re-election.
After the loss of Donald Trump, whose Middle East policies and strong opposition to Iran had the backing of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which may have more to lose from Joe Biden’s US election victory than other Arab states, has reserved its time to comment.
The near personal relations of Prince Mohammed to Trump have provided a crucial buffer against a wave of international criticism of the rights record of Riyadh ignited by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the role of Riyadh in the war in Yemen, and the imprisonment of women activists.
Biden and Saudi Arabia, a major oil exporter and buyer of U.S. weaponry, could now become points of contention in these regions.
In his campaign, the former U.S. vice president vowed to reassess relations with the kingdom, seeking more responsibility for Khashoggi ‘s killing at the Istanbul consulate in Riyadh and calling for an end to U.S. support for the war in Yemen.
“BIDEN-20 will be the only thing worse than COVID-19,” wrote Saudi Twitter user Dr. Muna, while several other Saudi social media site users simply ignored the outcome in the early hours after U.S. networks called the Biden election.
The chance of a falling out between the kingdom and the United States was played down by a Saudi political source, referring to Riyadh’s historic links with Washington.
But the Okaz newspaper in Saudi Arabia gave a sense of doubt about how the future would turn out for the kingdom. “The region is waiting … and preparing … for what happens after Biden’s victory,” it wrote in a front-page article.
The Saudi leadership is worried that a complete analysis of relations, including re-evaluating security links, would be carried out by the Biden administration and a hostile Congress and is therefore likely to make constructive sounds and move towards ending the Yemen conflict, “he said.”
Saudi Arabia was an ardent supporter of Trump’s “extreme pressure” on regional rival Iran to impose tough sanctions.
But Biden said he would return to a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran in 2015, an arrangement signed while Biden was the vice president in the administration of Barack Obama.
Abu Zaid, a cashier at a Riyadh supermarket, said he hoped Biden’s approach would be different. I’m not pleased with the victory of Biden, but I hope he learns from the mistakes of Obama and understands that Iran is a common enemy, “he said.”
“A Saudi political source said that the kingdom had” the opportunity to negotiate with any president because the U.S. is a country with institutions and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have a lot of administrative work.
Having said that, the world knows for sure that Saudi Arabia is not pleased with the victory of Biden, but has left no choice but to retain U.S.-Saudi relations if possible. Yet the outcomes can’t be determined overnight.