The true cost of Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion high-tech city

In the early hours of April 13th, Saudi citizen Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti was killed in his own home a day after his video criticising the forced eviction of his tribe, the Huwaitat, went viral on social media. Saudi activists claim that al-Huwaiti was executed by Saudi special forces due his public refusal to give up his home. The story of Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti is just one of the many cases which highlight the ongoing scandal of the forced eviction of the Huwaitat tribe to make way for the $500 billion project, known as NEOM (NEOM is a name coined by combining the Western prefix neo with the initial letter of the Arabic word mustakbal meaning future, ergo New Future). We at the Next Century Foundation are deeply saddened by this development that is taking place in the Huwaitat’s ancestral lands and we appeal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to re-evaluate measures regarding to this matter.

NEOM, the high-tech city, NEOM, is an ongoing project aimed to be completed by 2025. As an attempt to diversify from income sources from oil, the new high-tech city plans to implement futuristic technology in its infrastructure while simultaneously functioning as a tourist and investment hub. Located in the north-western area near the Saudi Jordanian border, the project is built on land indigenous to the ancient nomadic Bedouin tribe, the Huwaitat. The tribe has resided in this very land for hundreds of years, in over 13 villages near the Red Sea. However Huwaitat settlements in the Middle East as a whole span four countries: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. As one of the oldest Transjordanian tribes, the Huwaitat are culturally significant. They are also historically important because of their support for the Hashemites during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Their actions were documented in T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom due to their pivotal role in the creation of the Jordanian state.

The project is being advertised as being built on ‘virgin land’, however this is certainly not the case as the Huwaitat have resided in this very land for hundreds of years. They have become collateral damage in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s recent reforms as they face harassment to drive them to relocate and in many instances forced evictions. And those who dare defy progress, like Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, may find themselves imprisoned or killed. The true cost of Saudi Arabia’s new project NEOM far exceeds the $500 billion bill.

Just recently in September, an appeal was sent to the UN in regard to the repeated harassment and forced displacement allegations made against Saudi forces in regard to their treatment of the Huwaitat to make way for NEOM. Actions have included electricity in the area being shut and the closure of schools to disincentivise locals from staying. Despite the scandal, members of NEOM advisory board have released statements saying that nobody has been removed violently from their land and compensation schemes are available for those relocating.

The Next Century Foundation has pressing and urgent concerns regarding the safety and the rights of indigenous people in Saudi Arabia. Such rights are enshrined under the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We appeal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be considerate to the Huwaitat and ensure that Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti has not died in vain. We urge Saudi Arabia to take the compassionate route in regard to this matter.

This article was written by the NCF Research Officer Fara Maruf and does not necessarily represent the views of the Next Century Foundation.

An Update on HRH Princess Basmah’s Current Situation

*An update on Princess Basmah’s Current Situation and a respectful plea to HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Princess Basmah to be discharged as quickly as possible.*

In June 2020, the Next Century Foundation appealed to HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to release HRH Princess Basmah bint Saud and her daughter, Suhoud, from custody. This is a renewed, respectful plea for her release.

In order to provide brief context, HRH Princess Basmah was arrested in March 2019, along with her loyal and devoted 28-year old daughter. On this occasion, eight armed men took her into custody when she wanted to leave the country. Princess Basmah intended to go to Switzerland for medical treatment, however, she was suspected of fleeing Saudi Arabia.

At first, the state security accused her of procuring a false passport, but these charges were dropped quickly – now it is unclear why she is detained. Since March 2019, Princess Basmah has not been seen in public. She is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison (Riyadh) which is normally used for Jihadis in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Next Century Foundation reported that in April 2020 that Princess Basmah’s office had tweeted a statement to ask HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (her cousin) for mercy:

“I am currently being arbitrarily held at Al-Ha’ir prison without […] charges against my person. My health is deteriorating to an extent […] that could lead to my death. I have not received medical care or even response to the letters I dispatched from jail to the Royal Court. I was abducted without an explanation together with one of my daughters and thrown into prison. I am beseeching my uncle […] and my cousin […] to review my case, and to release me as I have done no wrong. My current health status is very critical.”

These tweets were taken down, as well as her website, and on 17 May 2020 Princess Basmah’s media office tweeted again to say:

“The direct and indirect weekly communications from Princess Basmah bint Saud with her family have been cut off completely since the tweet on April 17th, 2020. We have not received any information about her deteriorating health or legal status.”

Princess Basmah and her daughter were unfortunately not released during Ramadan despite these pleas. In addition, they have had no contact with relatives or any of the outside world since April 2020, marking five months since any updates on Princess Basmah’s critical health condition.

Other famous prisoners who are also thought to be in Al-Ha’ir prison such as Salman al-Awdah and Loujain Al-Hathloul have not been in communication with anyone outside of the prison since May and June, respectively. This has become incredibly concerning.

The Next Century Foundation respectfully pleas to HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to discharge HRH Princess Basmah bint Saud and her daughter, Suhoud, and allow them access to communications with the outside world.

HRH Princess Basmah represents little or no real threat to the status quo in Saudi Arabia. A revision of her case would undoubtedly be a kind gesture. Indeed, viewed from a Western perspective, she could be regarded as a credit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Princess Basmah’s current situation

During recent years, several royal family members from Gulf states have tried to leave their countries or found themselves in prison if they remain. Some stories cause international outrage, others happen quietly and discreetly. Since one Saudi princess is particularly associated with our Foundation (NCF work in 2012-13, Media Awards in 2013, though less so in recent years) and has recently appeared in news articles again, it might perhaps be a good time to look at her case. We are speaking of Princess Basmah bint Saud – the youngest child of King Saud, part of a branch of the family once seen as a potential alternative to the current branch in power (HRH King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed).

To begin with, here is a brief picture of her life so far: Princess Basmah spent many years in Beirut and later, London. She studied social sciences at different universities across the world. In 2007, she divorced her husband and started operating her own businesses one year later.

Princess Basmah is known for participating in the meetings of human rights organizations and raising awareness about women’s rights issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Her main criticisms cover the state’s role in promoting virtue, the brutality of religious policemen, the banning of gatherings of men and women and the clothing laws for females. Surprisingly, the long (and recently successful) campaign to acquire the right to drive for women in Saudi Arabia does not seem too have been too important to her as she seems to have regarded that as being related to men being overprotective of women. According to her, it was something that could resolve itself over the years and was not an urgent problem as regards individual freedoms.

The daughter of King Saud has proposed some interesting ideas how to modernize society and improve the role of women. And ironically, many of the ideas she championed have indeed been adopted by the new Crown Prince, HRH Mohammed bin Salman.

In 2014, the EU registered a specific set of suggestions by her – the award-winning “Fourth Way Law”. This idiosyncratic but interesting concept contains strategies on how alternative governing systems could be implemented. The theory looks at what Basmah calls the four fundamentals of life which are required to create a balance: security (main focus), freedom, equality and education. In response to her persistent lobbying, countries such as the UK and US have at least considered some of her recommendations when developing laws regarding the implementation of human rights and the monitoring of social media.

Although Princess Basmah has frequently criticized the Saudi establishment and other middle-level administrators, she has continued to stress her loyalty to the royal family and the fact that she is proud of her country’s ancient culture. Nevertheless, a number of articles by her have been censored by Saudi Arabian officials.

Now these attempts to silence her have intensified. HRH Princess Basmah was arrested in March 2019, along with her loyal and devoted 28-year old daughter Suhoud.

On this occasion, eight armed men took her into custody when she wanted to leave the country. Princess Basmah intended to go to Switzerland for medical treatment, however, she was suspected of fleeing Saudi Arabia.

At first, the state security accused her of procuring a false passport, but these charges were dropped quickly – now it is unclear why she is detained. Since March 2019, Princess Basmah has not been seen in public. She is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison (Riyadh) which is normally used for Jihadis in Saudi Arabia.

Insiders suggest that this could be related to internal issues, either regarding the custody of her children, or Princess Basmah trying to receive the inheritance she is in theory entitled to under Islamic Law from her father – her assets are currently frozen. The Twitter account of the Princess obviously went silent after she was taken into custody.

A very significant issue in this problem is Princess Basmah’s health status. Since she is in need of medical care, her family is especially worried about this. Although she might have limited access to medication, it is feared that there may be no adequate treatment provided for her.

In April 2020, Basmah’s office tweeted a statement to ask HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (her cousin) for mercy:

“I am currently being arbitrarily held at Al-Ha’ir prison without […] charges against my person. My health is deteriorating to an extent […] that could lead to my death. I have not received medical care or even response to the letters I dispatched from jail to the Royal Court. I was abducted without an explanation together with one of my daughters and thrown into prison. I am beseeching my uncle […] and my cousin […] to review my case, and to release me as I have done no wrong. My current health status is very critical.”

These tweets and her website were taken down quickly. Her communications to the outside world, which consisted of one weekly call before, got completely cut off.

As the Crown Prince usually pardons some prisoners during Ramadan, Princess Basmah had hoped for his goodwill during that month. However, she was not released, which is concerning. As stated above, the widespread opinion is that Basmah bint Saud is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison without legal recourse. The public might not have insights into internal Saudi Arabian affairs – understandably – but a revision of her case would undoubtedly be a kind gesture.

All these points urge the Next Century Foundation to appeal to HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Princess Basmah be discharged as quickly as possible. By allowing her contact with the outside world and releasing her from Al-Ha’ir, her health could be improved from the critical state she is currently in and necessary treatments could be provided for her.

We beg the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reconsider. HRH Princess Basmah represents little or no real threat to the status quo in Saudi Arabia. Indeed viewed from a Western perspective, she could be regarded as a credit to the Kingdom.

Possible Futures: Bahrain

In this series, Joe Waters will be looking into the political climates of Middle Eastern countries that are not generally explored in depth in mainstream news, with aim of providing a sense of the current political situation in these states, as well as potential forces for change (and whether or not they are likely to prevail). Today’s subject is the frequently overlooked nation of Bahrain. Often lumped in with other Gulf States, it in fact has a very specific political climate of its own – one that combines a generally authoritarian and conservative government with unexpected instances of liberalism. It is hard to work out which of these contrasting approaches is prevailing.

Much like its better-known neighbour Saudi Arabia, Bahrain has a powerful Sunni monarchy (however, unlike Saudi, the majority – arguably about 60% – of its population are Shiites). Its current head of state is King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Perhaps surprisingly though, the prime minister of the nation, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa has been around longer than its king. Having been in post for 60 years, he is actually the longest serving prime minister in the whole world today. Some argue that these two entrenched, senior figures are the roadblock to major change in the country and prevent many conservative policies from being overturned. Indeed, after the failed 2011 uprising, their grip tightened significantly. Sadly, even the country’s single opposition newspaper (quite a unique phenomenon in a fundamentalist state such as this), Al-Wasat, was shut down a couple of years ago. 

Interestingly, however, the winds of change have been blowing in the royal family. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (not to be confused with his Saudi-Arabian namesake) has spoken positively, with some considerable justification, about the country’s incredibly progressive “Alternative Sentencing” offenders policy, second only to the Netherlands, and claims on his website that he “is committed to providing quality healthcare services to all Bahraini citizens.” He has also supported the International Labour Organisation and attempted to start nationwide conversations on workers’ issues. He would go further if he could. Unfortunately, many of his more visionary efforts are discouraged by the more conservative elements in the Government. Nevertheless, in the persona of the Crown Prince, the country’s oldest and most antiquated institution has already become a force for change. 

It is perhaps ironic that the monarchy of Bahrain is more likely to see a change of personnel than its democratic counterpart. Unfortunately, Bahrain arguably has the most entrenched and ossified opposition movement in the world headed by Ali Salman, the world’s longest serving opposition leader.

That said the problems faced by the opposition are legion. There has been pervasive gerrymandering in all recent elections. This might have changed but the principal opposition party, Al-Wefaq, boycotted a generous power sharing deal in the 2014 elections (offered at the behest of the Crown Prince) and have been on the back foot ever since. In the 2018 elections there was no repeat of the offer, and to add insult to injury, they were barred from standing. This has rendered the party somewhat powerless in recent years, a situation unlikely to change unless there is a new approach before the next election in November 2022. Entering government seems unlikely for the party but, by my reckoning, their boycott achieved little and they should attempt to stand at the next opportunity they get. Even given the electoral crookedness, and in the absence of a repeat of the power sharing deal they were offered before, a show of official opposition would be powerful and they might even gain back some of the eighteen seats they previously held in the Council of Representatives. 

Refusal to engage with the system is understandable given the number of political prisoners in the country, notably Al-Wefaq’s leader Ali Salman. Even the respected Shia religious leader Sheikh Issa Qassim has had his citizenship removed after settling in Iran having left Bahrain (where he had been under house arrest) apparently to visit the UK for medical treatment. Yet, given the political deadlock of most of the last decade, and the recent release of the tub thumping and staggeringly outspoken government critic and opposition populist, Nabeel Rajab, a man who is constantly outspoken about the Bahrain government’s use of torture (a practice that has become far less common in recent years) and critical of the actions of the Saudis in Yemen (Bahrain’s allies and paymasters), a clear gesture of goodwill by the government, the time seems ripe for at least an attempt to parlay with the government, even if only incremental reforms are achieved.

To go about making change, it is necessary to understand the motives (other than habit) behind the rulers of Bahrain. Are they driven simply by religious fundamentalism? No – as always in these situations, the answer is both more complex and rather more predictable. The majority of Bahrain’s GDP is debt; much of their infrastructure relies on huge loans from Saudi Arabia. As a result, the Saudis put pressure on their smaller neighbour not to be too hasty in their steps toward democracy and a Western idea of human rights. The larger country fears that, if its citizens see concrete reforms in a state so close to their own, they will demand greater freedoms themselves.  

If Bahrain did have the gumption to liberalise, perhaps it might just trigger a broader shift in neighbouring states. This small, politically stagnant country might just become a progenitor for a major transformation in the Gulf. Maybe this is blue sky thinking but it feels like, given the depressing uniformity of the debate in Bahrain in recent years, a little imagination is necessary to instigate change of any kind. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to expect Bahrain to move away from its unhealthy dependence on Saudi Arabia. But to push the boundaries a little could help give the nation a new lease of life – an opportunity to move toward freedom of expression and real, democratic accountability.  

Currently, these ideas seem remote. However, there are concrete steps that can be taken in the here and now. Al-Wefaq can push to be able to stand in the next election and attempt to start a dialogue with the Government. And the government could encourage Al-Wasat newspaper to relaunch, providing some financial support for it to do so. Acting out democracy is not sufficient but maybe, over time, pretence can evolve into reality. It is possible that, with a more empowered Crown Prince and a more active opposition, Bahrain may finally find its way to a brighter future. 

Image: The Saudi Bahrain Bridge taken by Mohamed Ghuloom / CC BY (

Yemen’s Timeline – An Overview

The unrest in Yemen is not a single conflict but is instead a mosaic of multifaceted regional, local, and international power struggles that are the legacy of recent and long-past events. The following timeline offers readers a summarised overview of Yemen’s many struggles and ills.

00 Yemen_Intromap No text

1918 – Yemen’s modern political history realistically began with its independence from the Ottoman Empire, following which North Yemen came to be ruled by Imam Yahya.

While Imam Yahya safeguarded North Yemen’s territorial integrity, tensions among several of tribes, and various factions’ pursuit of power, prevented the nation from truly developing meaningful state institutions, at least in a manner which would have offered political continuity and stability.

To a great extent old tribal upsets have plagued North Yemen, forever preventing the acceptance of an overarching political entity – that of the state. 

1948 – Ahmad ibn Yahya inherits the reins of power from his father amid growing calls for an end to the feudal rule.

1962 – Following Ahmad’s death, high ranking military officials break ranks to establish the Yemen Arab Republic – largely under the influence of pan-Arabism. This begins North Yemen’s civil war which sees Saudi Arabia (royalist) and Egypt (republican) battle for influence.

1970 – North Yemen’s republican forces win a long war of attrition against the royalists, putting the newly formed Republic on a crash course with its theocratic neighbour: Saudi Arabia. From then on, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will look at Yemen with much unease and concern.

1972 – As North Yemen’s various factions battle for political power, skirmishes at the border with South Yemen – then under control Communist rule, reach new heights.

1978 – Ali Abdullah Saleh becomes President of North Yemen. He will remain in power for three decades.

1986 – Following a mini civil war, Haidar Abu Bakr Al Attas, then Prime Minister of the People Democratic of Yemen (South Yemen), begins negotiating the reunification of Yemen with President Saleh.

1990 – North and South Yemen unite under the presidency of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, marking the end of the communist era in the Arabian Peninsula. Before it fell to the control of the communist party South Yemen was under British rule (1969).


1994 May-July – Yemen sees a violent but short-lived attempt by southerners to secede, under the leadership of the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) from the newly formed Republic of Yemen. Backed by Saudi Arabia, Ali Abdullah Saleh breaks the southern secessionist movement. This victory will allow the Saleh clan to consolidate its hold over Yemen’s state institutions and economy.

The short civil war left the YSP in political shambles, thus allowing control to fall within the hands of the General People’s Congress (Saleh’s political faction) and Al Islah (a loose coalition of Islamists and tribes loyal to Al Ahmar clan).

Over the next few years, the effort to reorganize politics and to strengthen the voice of the south in Yemen’s political life was hampered in part by the inability of the YSP to resuscitate itself; at the same time, strained relations within the GPC (Saleh’s General People’s Congress) / adn Al Iṣlaḥ coalition led to increasing dominance by the GPC and to an oppositional stance on Al Iṣlaḥ’s part. The political conflict and unrest that accompanied and followed the civil war marked by a thinning of political freedom and subsequent religious radicalisation under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood whose members found protection under Al Islah’s political umbrella.

This tension between Yemen’s political and tribal factions has plagued Yemen’s political discourse and prevented many efforts towards national reconciliation. 

For three decades, Yemen now saw the reelection of Ali Abdullah Saleh at the presidency. Saleh’s rule, like that of many of his contemporaries,  was to be marked by nepotism, corruption and political manipulation.

While President Saleh maintained relatively close ties to Saudi Arabia – often benefiting from Al Saud financial largesse, his decision during the 1st Gulf War to support then-President Saddam Hussain (Iraq) marked a sharp turnaround in Riyadh-Sana’a relations.

Arguably Saudi Arabia will never completely forgive Saleh’s ‘betrayal’ and would learn to look at Yemen with much suspicion indeed. 

Thus began a long game of cat and mouse between Saleh and Al Saud for control over Yemen’s politics and economic future.

2004 – The Houthis emerged out of Yemen’s mountainous far north from ‘Believing Youth,’ a revivalist Zaidi movement fuelled by local fears of encroachment by Sunni ideologies. Under threat of ‘absorption’ by the Muslim Brotherhood, several Zaidi tribal leaders decided to come together and fight. 

While initial fighting was largely limited to the Houthi strongholds of Sa’ada,  it soon spread to the province of Amran and al-Jawf, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

Though kept in check under Saleh’s presidency, the Houthis grew both in strength and ambition, and continued to do so in 2012 as President Hadi (a member of the GPC and successor to Saleh)  looked to consolidate his rule through a series of alliances aimed to counter Al Islah’s political ambitions.

January 27, 2011 – On the back of Egyptians’ call for regime change protesters in Sanaa decide to mobilise against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, asking for his resignation and new elections after three decades in power.

September 12, 2011 – Saleh signs a document giving Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi special power to negotiate a transition of power under the guise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Joint Meeting Parties – Yemen’s political opposition parties.

December 2011 – Saleh announces that he handed power over to his designated Vice President, Hadi, under the terms of the GCC-brokered transition of power initiative (see here for the full text).

January 2012 – Saleh and several of his close allies and family members are given full immunity by parliament.

February 21, 2012 – Hadi is confirmed president of Yemen in a one-man “election”. His term is set for two years, during which he will oversee Yemen’s institutional and political transition in keeping with the National Dialogue Conference resolutions.

January 2014 – Members of the NDC (National Dialogue Conference) reach a tentative agreement in the capital Sana’a. The terms of a draft constitution are finally ironed out so that Yemen can finalize its transition of power.

September 2014 – The Houthis reach Sana’a following a blazing campaign against Al Islah in the highlands. Abdel Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi movement, calls on Hadi to commit to the implementation of all NDC resolutions, per the January 2014 agreement. A deal is signed in Sana’a and a new coalition government is formed.

January 2015 –  Following months of political wrangling and rising tensions Hadi announces his resignation. His entire cabinet resigns. Hadi and several ministers are immediately put under house arrest by the Houthis as Jamal Benomar, then-UN Special Envoy to Yemen, attempts to return all parties to the negotiating table.

February 2015 – Hadi flees Sana’a for Aden (former capital of South Yemen), where he announces Aden as the new capital of Yemen, essentially splitting Yemen in two. Sana’a becomes a diplomatic ghost town as all foreign embassies withdraw their diplomats from the city.

March 2015 – The United States of America announces the evacuation of its troops from Al Anad airbase near Aden.

March 25, 2015 -Saudi Arabia unilaterally launched an attack on Yemen with the backing of eight Arab countries — Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — and the support of the United States and European Union under UN Resolution 2216.




US send additional troops to Saudi Arabia

The Pentagon confirmed on October 11 the deployment of 3,000 additional US troops and military hardware to Saudi Arabia to address the threat the kingdom finds itself under following a direct attack on its oil installations earlier this September.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defence of Saudi Arabia … Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month.”

Esper later told reporters that the deployments were in response “to continued threats in the region” and came after a conversation with MBS about “efforts to protect from further Iranian aggression”.

The drone and missile strikes that lit up the Kingdom’s eastern province on September 14, knocked out over half of the state-owned oil company’s daily production of nearly 10 million barrels a day.
More importantly, it illustrated just how vulnerable the world’s largest oil exporter is to an attack, despite Saudi Arabia having the highest per capita defense spending of any country in the world.
Saudi Arabia has seen its energy infrastructure, including pumping stations, pipelines, supertankers and oil and gas fields, continuously attacked over the past five months. The strikes culminated this September with a strike on Aramco’s largest processing plant and its second largest oil field.

Game Changer in Yemen – The Houthis enter Saudi Arabia in pivotal move against regional status quo

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”  Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Saudi Arabia has come once more under direct enemy fire … only this time the attack did not come from the air and it did not simply challenge a sector of its industry. In a move which arguably caught the Kingdom off-guard, the Houthis (aka Ansarallah), masterminded a ground incursion into Najran (south-western province of Saudi Arabia), challenging not only Riyadh’s sovereignty but the regional order.

To target Saudi Arabia on its home soil stands to ‘activate’ a series of alliances, with no clear understanding of the repercussions this will have on the immediate region, notwithstanding the long term economics fallouts any direct threat to Saudi Arabia’s energy markets will undoubtedly bring.

Whether anyone agrees or not with Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, or even Riyadh’s standing as far as Yemen’s war is concerned matters little now, it is evident that a ground war would be devastating for that world order we all have grown familiar with.

Yemen’s ragtag army is challenging decades of careful geopolitical planning and economic strategizing. What happens next is anyone’s guess … well maybe not entirely! 

What is evident today however, if anything else, it is that a new vision for the Middle East, and most accurately the Arabian Peninsula is absolutely and unequivocally needed.  To conform to old geopolitical models by virtue of their former merit has proven to be not only dangerous but extremely short-sighted. As everyone will recall Yemen’s war was meant as a strategic strike against an enemy: the Houthis, who were thought of as weak, disorganised, and incapable of sustaining political pressure. 

And yet here we are, a few years into this war, contemplating the possibility of an insurgency movement within the Kingdom under the leadership of a man: Abdel Malek Al Houthi, no one imagined could rally to his cause more than a few tribesmen from North Yemen.

As a statement released by the Houthi leadership proves, the tribesmen of Najran participated, even if by omission, to Yemen’s success in asserting control over large swathes of land within the Kingdom. Such a precedent could prompt others to imagine themselves free to pursue dreams of secession or political independence.

Needless to say that Saudi Arabia never imagined when it launched its first air campaign against Sana’a that its impoverished neighbour would strike so close to its seat of power.

And yet this is exactly what happened. The Houthis are the ‘black swan’ no one imagined but nevertheless came to pass.

I clearly recall a comment by General Yahya Saleh, nephew to late President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the onset of Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen in late March 2015 which, in hindsight, all parties to this war should have listened to.

Speaking to the media he stated that an assault against his homeland would only serve to unite an otherwise abysmal mesh of rival tribal and political factions. His comment was accompanied by a warning; that a frontal attack on Yemen could spell the end of Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity and thus send the region in a tailspin.

As it were, Gen. Yahya Saleh was correct in his assessment. 

In just a few months the Houthis have affirmed themselves as formidable foes capable of wielding high grade weaponry. As of today, North Yemen’s military arsenal will account for several  new upgrades, courtesy of the United States of America … needless to say that if the Houthis posed a threat to the Kingdom before, they now represent a veritable existential threat to the regime, notwithstanding the devastation its drones could rain on its neighbours, namely the UAE.

Did I hear you say Energy markets? 

Yemen’s war is no longer regional, if it ever was that! The attack on Aramco earlier this month sent shockwaves across world markets, materialising fears of global recession. 

If the spike in oil prices the world witnessed in the wake of Aramco’s attack this September and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s recent comments to CBS of a pending ‘oil crisis’ are anything to go by then it is rather obvious the Houthis’ ability to do harm, if pushed against the wall, exists far beyond Yemen’s borders.

Such a realisation should not be interpreted as an invitation, or justification for more violence; rather an opportunity for peace on the basis of regional cooperation. Yemen we ought to realise needs not be a failed state where all manners of violent ideologues come to play.

As the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths noted in comments to the BBC: what we need to do is waste no more time, but to get to the table to get the political agreement in place to end that conflict.”

Yemen needs not to suffer famine and outbreaks of cholera. Yemen could, given a chance, serve as a powerful  unifier, a bridge many may argue to heal much of the upsets which still plague the region. And yes evidently I’m referring to Iran and its longstanding ‘battle’ for geopolitical relevance with Saudi Arabia.

Among much regional political fluidity, one constant remains: Yemen’s geopolitical importance. From Turkey to Iraq, Iran and the GCC countries, Yemen’s future sits high on nations’ agenda … and indeed, Yemen’s geography alone warrants such interest.

If we now keep in mind those strategic alliances each of those regional players hold then readers will grasp I’m sure the challenge that is Yemen from an international perspective. 

By Catherine Shakdam


Two million children are out of school – UNICEF

As the new school year starts amid continuing violence in Yemen, 2 million children are out of school, including almost half a million who dropped out since the conflict escalated in March 2015. The education of another 3.7 million children now hangs in the balance as teachers’ salaries have not been paid in over two years.

“Conflict, underdevelopment and poverty have deprived millions of children in Yemen of their right to education – and of their hope for a brighter future. Violence, displacement and attacks on schools are preventing many children from accessing school. With teacher salaries going unpaid for over two years, education quality is also at stake,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

“Children out of school face increased risks of all forms of exploitation including being forced to join the fighting, child labour and early marriage. They lose the opportunity to develop and grow in a caring and stimulating environment, ultimately becoming trapped in a life of poverty and hardship,” added Nyanti.

Kuwait contributes US$ 2 million to support FAO’s emergency programme


The Government of Kuwait has contributed US$ 2 million to boost FAO’s emergency agricultural interventions and improve food security and nutrition in Yemen. The Kuwaiti funding in support of FAO’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen will be crucial in providing assistance to some of the 8.6 million severely food insecure Yemenis.

“This new agreement reinforces the relationship between the State of Kuwait and FAO,” said H.E. Jamal M. Al Ghunaim Ambassador Permanent Representative of the State of Kuwait to the U.N. in Geneva. “We aim to work closer together to accelerate humanitarian efforts towards the people of Yemen and other countries in the near East region who are suffering from conflicts.”

Air raid in North Yemen claims 16 civilian – 7 children


A series of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday killed 16 people including seven children, an official and a doctor confirmed.

The raid came days after the Houthis offered to halt drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to end a war.

So who was it?

The word is quietly awash with conspiracy theories.

But what is the truth? Hard to know but this is a series of Hala London Radio broadcasts from NCF Secretary General William Morris on some of the issues. The conclusions reached do not represent the view of the Next Century Foundation or its trustees. If you do not wish to listen to the background the third in the series stands alone adequately and covers the main points:

On Kuwait




So who did it?

Is the “Deal of the Century” worth further examination?

In an article titled “Deal of the Century means US recognition of apartheid”, Iran’s Press TV reports that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman offered Palestinian supremo Mahmoud Abbas ten billion dollars to accept Trump’s Mideast deal.

Is there an argument that given that Palestinians live as disenfranchised citizens in a virtual state colonised by Israel at present, it might be advantageous if they banked what they could get and then campaigned from that base for a better future?

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates has strongly condemned US President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, dubbed “the deal of the century,” saying it translates into “Washington’s recognition of the Israeli regime’s apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

The deal also appears to be opposed by a majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens. See the Peace Index for April.

What would Trump’s proposal actually mean? According to documents leaked by Haaretz the proposed deal comprises the following:

  • A tripartite agreement will be signed between Israel’s government, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as the Hamas resistance movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and subsequently a Palestinian state will be established that will be called “New Palestine.”
  • “New Palestine” will be established in the West Bank and Gaza, with the exception of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • The settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2334, will remain under the Israel’s control and will expand to reach out to other isolated settlements.
  • The city of Jerusalem al-Quds will not be divided but is to be shared by Israel and “New Palestine,” with the Israel maintaining general control.
  • The Arab population living in Jerusalem al-Quds will be citizens of New Palestine, but Israel would remain in charge of the municipality and therefore the land.
  • The newly formed Palestinian state would pay taxes and water costs for East Jerusalem to the Jerusalem al-Quds municipality.
Is the proposal at least a basis for negotiation? Or should it be dismissed out of hand?

On the killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Writing the introduction to the Next Century Foundation’s Media Credibility Index shortly after the start of the Arab Spring, Jamal Khashoggi explained that he believed there were three clearly distinct eras in the growth of mass media in the Arab and Islamic Worlds. In the middle of the 20th century Cairo and Beirut were mass media and cultural hubs for the Arab and Islamic Worlds. Their dominance was brought to an end variously by factors such as the nationalization of Al Ahram and the Lebanese civil war. The era of the London based Saudi print media partially filled the vacuum that was thus created. But not until the launch of Aljazeera in Doha in 1996 did the Arab World’s mass media truly come of age.

“Wow” I thought. This man is on the button. Jamal was more of an acquaintance than a friend. Other members of my family knew him well, however, and he was close to us. Yes, I thought, the new Arab Media in all of its incarnations from bloggers to broadcasters has become a many headed hydra, almost uncontrollable because of its multi-faceted nature.

But there are those in the corridors of power in Cairo, Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Istanbul that want to restore the old order and re-establish control, those that dislike this new and subversive mass media. But there were also surprising gems of encouragement. For a brief moment in time Bahrain flirted with allowing an opposition newspaper. Kuwait post liberation from Saddam had an extraordinarily free press. And the mass media in Iraq was beyond belief, with more daily newspapers than there were days in the year.

Still the great powers, the giants of the Arab World, wanted to restore the status quo ante. And they set about doing this through creating a climate of fear. New repressive Media Laws were introduced in Cairo and Abu Dhabi that set a benchmark. Others followed these trend setters with enthusiasm. The incarceration of bloggers and tweeters became commonplace for the most minor of offences. And journalists most certainly had to watch their backs facing, at best, tremendous fines in the courts, and at worst, targeted assassination.

Jamal’s Response

Most of us grumbled about this. We did what we could at the NCF. My late father, Claud Morris, believed in the concept of “Peace Through Media” and in tribute to that we established The International Council for Press and Broadcasting (subsequently merged with the International Communications Forum associated with Initiatives of Change) and launched The International Media Awards. We even changed the ethos of the NCF to one of support for Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms in order to better justify our stand for Media Freedom.

Jamal wanted more. He felt the world should not just talk about it but should do something about it. He decided on a scheme whereby you could get round the new Western controls on alternative media. This needs a little explanation. The big media platforms in the Middle East are forums like Facebook and Twitter. We at the NCF launched an ideological Facebook page in Arabic called Al Khawatir (reflections) and found that with a budget of $20 a week and a few ideologically driven interns to write posts we could develop a following of a million a month in unhappy places in the Middle East like Algiers, Tripoli, Cairo, Riyadh, Sanaa or Baghdad.

Facebook was strong everywhere. Twitter was particularly strong in Saudi Arabia and is currently in the ascendancy everywhere, perhaps because it is a favoured method of imparting the thoughts of the great and the good. The under thirties may have started the trend. But Arab politicians like Sheikh Khalid, the current Foreign Minister of Bahrain and influential diplomats like the former Qatar Ambassador to London, Nasser al Khalifa, were quick to build huge twitter followings with their passionate tweets in both Arabic and English and their relationship with their fans.

The difficulty for would be opposition tweeters is the controls that Twitter currently has. They have become necessary of course, to prevent trolls and to stop forms of abuse like one person – or government – holding multiple accounts. So you may not open a twitter account without providing a phone number for verification. A huge problem if you want to say what you think in the Middle East because a phone number can be traced one way or another and you may be subject to arbitrary arrest if you are not a member of the establishment. Or at least you would be frightened of the possibility of arrest.

And along comes Jamal. He sets up a scheme whereby he and a friend in Canada would buy hundreds of sim cards. Then if you wanted to start a twitter account all you would need to do was to message Jamal or his friend by one of the more confidential platforms available, WhatsApp for example. And Jamal’s friend would set up a one-time simcard for you in Canada that you could use to enter for verification of the twitter account and he would send you back the verification code from Canada and the authorities in Saudi Arabia could never trace you.

The Consequence

Of course social media is powerful. Remember the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt was largely Facebook fanned and encouraged. The old adage, the pen is mightier than the sword might be rewritten, the pen encourages the sword of retribution. Or rather the finger on the smartphone in today’s world.

Had that been the all of it maybe it could have been overlooked. But that was not the half of it. Jamal was an activist with numerous projects. There was another project with the working title, “Democracy for the Arab World Now”. That too was dangerous.

However, most dangerous of all were his columns in the Post, the Washington Post. Had he been the usual ranting fanatic oppositionist he might just have been ignorable. But he was not. Jamal was considered and thoughtful. He was fair in his analysis and honest but modest in his criticism. He was the most dangerous kind of critic.

The rumour that Jamal had his fingers cut off before he was killed appears to have been apocryphal. But the fact that such a horrific story circulated underscores the savage symbolism surrounding this one man’s death. There were those in the corridors of power who believed Jamal had to be silenced. It had to be done. He was uniquely dangerous.

And it was done. Brutally, cruelly, with Mafia-like ruthlessness. The killing was effective and, arguably, has done what it was expected to do in regard to the repression of freedom of speech.

There has been a cost of course, a cost to the Saudi Arabian establishment, a storm indeed. But perhaps that remains a cost they can bear. The intention may certainly have been to send a more discreet and equivocal message. But the message is what has mattered. People will think twice in future before they kick against the establishment in such a dangerous way. Try to use matches and you may get burned.

Was this unique?

So, is Jamal’s killing worse than other politically motivated assassinations? We have seen it happen again and again. Sometimes the killings are not high profile. The NCF took a press delegation to visit Arafat days before his death and he was fit as flee demonstrating his push ups. I was always convinced he was assassinated and was always bothered by the refusal to allow an autopsy. So often the killings never make the headlines. The snatching of the NCF’s hostage negotiator, Abu Innas, off the sidewalk in Al Adhamiyah Baghdad by the police, never to be seen again. But assassinations are so commonplace are they not? Was Jamal’s killing worse than others. More brutal and brazen than most perhaps. But not of itself worse than others. All murder is evil. State sanctioned murder is worse than evil and those responsible and those complicit by their silence will no doubt face their God someday and have to give account for their behaviour.

But some would conclude that Jamal’s murder may be worse in its outcome because its ripples will mean that freedom of expression is set back. Will it not?

Well I don’t know. Possibly not. Possibly the calls for freedom of speech will be amplified by Jamal’s death. The killing of Jamal has done much to highlight the issue. Now it is up to us to do something to ensure that his death is neither forgotten nor in vain.