S. Arabia plans coastal resort with “special laws” for women

• Announced reopening of Saudi-Iraqi border marks a watershed in Riyadh-Baghdad relations
• Kingdom clamps down on “extremists” who promote ideologies via Twitter
• King Salman and U.S. President Donald Trump discuss by phone Qatar crisis, Iran, and terrorism

August 2
Saudi Arabia announces coastal resort with “special laws” on women
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) unveiled plans for a Red Sea beach resort in northwestern Saudi Arabia. “Special laws” will permit women to wear bikinis. Officials in Riyadh stated that such laws will be “on par with international standards”” Neither MbS, nor any other Saudi authority, addressed the question of alcohol at this resort. Construction of the resort, which fits into Vision 2030 and the quest to diversify the kingdom’s economy, is scheduled to begin in 2019. The goal is for the resort to host an annual one million visitors within 18 years.

Analysis: The Red Sea beach resort zone is a key part of Vision 2030. Such liberal laws governing the Red Sea beach zone would seriously challenge conservative Saudi tendencies. But there is a strong move by the youthful Saudi leadership to establish these hotels and tourist zones as part of the lifting of strict enforcement of Sharia in all corners of the oil-rich desert kingdom.

August 4
Authorities in Riyadh defend planned executions of 14 Shi’ites
In a rare statement, and in a sign of defiance against international human rights organizations, Saudi officials declared their intention to proceed with the execution of 14 Saudi Shi’ites. The Ministry of Justice maintained that all 14 received due process and that the judiciary found them guilty of protesting and waging violence, targeting the kingdom’s security forces.

August 13
Riyadh “seeks Iraq’s help” in easing tension with Tehran
Alghadeer (an Iraqi satellite channel) reported that Saudi officials have reached out to their Iraqi counterparts for helping in mending ties between the kingdom and Iran. According to the report, Baghdad’s interior minister, Qasim al-Araji, stated that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had contacted Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to mediate with the Islamic Republic. Araji reported:

“During our visit to Saudi Arabia, they also asked us to do so, and we said that to [the] Iranian side. The Iranian side looked at this demand positively… After the victories that Iraq has achieved, it [Saudi Arabia] began looking to Iraq, at its true size and leading role… The calm and stability and the return of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have positive repercussions on the region as a whole.”

August 14
Saudi Arabia targets Twitter users charged with promoting extremism
The kingdom’s public prosecutor has summoned subjects charged with promoting extremism via Twitter, vowing to take legal action against those who are guilty of “influencing the integrity and moderation of the intellectual curriculum of the society with harmful participations that took the seriousness of extremism leading to the misguided campaign of thought.”

August 15
Riyadh plans to reopen crossing at Saudi-Iraqi border
Following the establishment of a joint trade commission between Riyadh and Baghdad, Saudi Arabia has announced plans to reopen the Arar border crossing with Iraq, which has been close for 27 years. According to Saudi Arabia’s chargé d’affaires in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, “The crossing that will open soon will be dedicated to the transportation of goods.” The governor of Iraq’s Anbar province, Sohaid al-Rawi, claimed that the reopening marked a “significant move” for bilateral relations, offering both Middle Eastern countries “a great start for further future cooperation”.

Analysis: The reopening of the Saudi-Iraqi border is a major step toward the two countries working together in the immediate future. Riyadh wants the border open to promote transit trade between the two countries. The security improvements to open the border stand out. That said, there are some actors, namely the Islamic State, which may seek to close this border by launching structured attacks.

August 25
Saudi religious authority condemns sectarian conflict
In a sermon prior to the Hajj pilgrimage, the Imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Sheikh Saleh Mohammed al-Taleb, rejected those who “cause conflict among Muslims” and called for respect between Shi’ites and Sunnis. He declared, “Anyone who causes conflict and discord among Muslims ignores the blessing of harmony, imitates those who lived in ignorance [before Islam], harms his people and cheats his nation.”

August 26
Saudi-led coalition acknowledges “collateral damage among [Yemeni] civilians”
Amid Yemen’s raging civil war, a spokesperson for the Riyadh-led coalition, Colonel Turki al-Malki, expressed “deep sorrow for this unintentional accident and for the collateral damage among civilians”. According to al-Malki, the Arab coalition intended to a strike “a legitimate military target” which he said was a residential zone with civilians whom the Houthi rebels used as human shields.

August 30
Saudi Arabia’s coalition in Yemen kills five civilians as international outrage over conflict grows
Fighter jets belonging to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen struck a checkpoint in Masajed (situated six miles from Sana’a), killing five civilians in a taxi and two armed personnel, according to eyewitnesses. The target was in a plot of land controlled by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. According to Houthi representatives, the Arab coalition attacked an oil tanker, resulting in 13 deaths and an explosion that led to these deaths, in addition to a fire that hindered efforts to rescue victims.

U.S. President Donald Trump and King Salman discuss Qatar crisis, terrorism, and Iran
In a phone conversation between America’s commander-in-chief and the Saudi monarch, Donald Trump urged the Saudi ruler to reach “a diplomatic resolution [to the GCC’s Qatar rift] that follows through on [Washington’s Arab allies’] commitments made at the Riyadh Summit, to maintain unity while fighting terrorism.” King Salman also expressed his condolences to Americans whose relatives have lost their lives due to Hurricane Harvey. The two also addressed the need to combat the ideological and financial support that terrorists receive, as well as Iran’s conduct in the Middle East.

Photo credit: Flickr/Creative Commons/Jim Mattis