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News & Commentary: Nov. 2022

As I’m trying to spend less time on Twitter, I’m experimenting with revamping this site to have more regular posts – starting with end-of-the-month roundups of news related to Saudi Arabia (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the Gulf) as well as some commentary in translation from the same.

World Cup

11/3 – Vani Saraswathi of reviews reforms (and shortcomings therein) to Qatar’s labor laws over the past decade-plus.

While Qatar has reformed laws and has been more open than the rest of the GCC states in engaging with its critics, it will also pull off the World Cup without having to really bring about meaningful change or engage with those most impacted by its laws and policies. Qatar can do the dance with western critics, knowing well that it doesn’t have to change anything on the ground.

11/19 – Tariq Panja (with Rory Smith) recounts the long road to Qatar, via FIFA votes and European club acquisitions and domestic developments in Qatar. Tariq has also reported out (with other journalists) a number of articles on migrant workers’ path to Qatar, trials as part of the Cup’s essential infrastructure, and often uncertain future after the Cup is over.

Having won the World Cup, Qatar quickly moved to establish itself as a true power in the sport. Within a year of the lunch at the Élysée Palace, Qatari interests had bought the French team Paris St.-Germain, and a Qatari-owned sports network had begun pouring money into European soccer by buying up broadcasting rights… At the same time, it inspired a frenzy of construction as a tiny Gulf country was, in effect, remade in a stunning nation-building project that, according to human rights groups, cost thousands of migrant workers their lives, a figure Qatar rejects. And now, with long-feared cultural disputes playing out, it has arrived at a point that once seemed unthinkable: hundreds of the world’s finest soccer players and more than a million fans gathering in a thumb-shaped peninsula in the Persian Gulf, ready for the tournament that changed the game.

11/24-25 – CNN on debates over whether criticism of Qatar and the 2022 World Cup amounts to a double standard vs past hosts and other countries in the region, featuring researchers from the region & those with regional expertise. (See also Vivian Nereim on the same for NYT).

11/25 – Vivienne Walt on the big business of big football

The market has spoken: There has been no detectable business boycott and, as FIFA points out, sponsorships are sold out, with longtime partners like Coca-Cola and Adidas appearing alongside newcomers like

11/26 – Al Jazeera on Al Hilal, the Saudi football club home to 9 of Saudi Arabia’s 11 starters.

At Home

10/29 – this is cheating a bit (i.e. late October) but Vivian Nereim’s reported story for the New York Times features a new look at celebrations of Halloween in “the new Saudi Arabia” along with gorgeous photographs from Tamir Khalifa.


11/1 – WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reports Saudi warnings of an imminent Iranian attack on the Kingdom.

11/7 – Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia announced for the n-th time (per WSJ).

11/12 – WaPo’s John Hudson reports on the U.S. intelligence community’s concerns over Emirati meddling in American politics.

11/17 – Jonathan Guyer of Vox looks at the state of “recalibrating” the U.S.-Saudi relationship, although it’s unclear whether there will be any movement on this post-midterms.

Now that the Biden administration re-evaluates its approach a third time, will it come to a new conclusion? It will be tough to change much. The US, after all, relies on the kingdom as a major oil producer and economic power with important shipping lanes, a close partner in countering Iran and terrorist organizations, and a significant trading partner and number-one purchaser of US weapons. Those perceived shared interests, limited leverage over Saudi Arabia, and the proclivities of Biden’s inner circle weigh in favor of the status quo.

11/21 – Hiroko Tabuchi examines Saudi Arabia’s efforts to resist moves to address climate change across a wide range of forums, even as its official agencies champion green narratives.

The kingdom’s plan for keeping oil at the center of the global economy is playing out around the world in Saudi financial and diplomatic activities, as well as in the realms of research, technology and even education. It is a strategy at odds with the scientific consensus that the world must swiftly move away from fossil fuels, including oil and gas, to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

11/25 – Steven Kalin of WSJ on-site to cover the latest round of flooding in the coastal city of Jeddah – a disaster that recurs every few years.


Abdelrahman al-Rashed on Biden’s meeting with Xi Jinping

I expect Biden to be keen to fill out his remaining two years by searching for a historic achievement to immortalize himself. This is the habit of American presidents. He laid the first building block the day before yesterday with his meeting with the Chinese President in Indonesia. If he succeeds in extinguishing the crisis, so that the two powers coexist on the globe, he will appear on the cover of Time magazine and he will be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The world will remember him not through his opponents’ videos mocking him, but through what he did for his country and the world by stopping the cold war with China in its infancy. In any case, this is a difficult task. Which would make it easier for him if he refrained from running for a second presidency. Aawsat, 11.16.2022

The campaign against “Westoxification” continues:

There is also a systematic campaign that we are now clearly following: the issue of the continuous mobilization to distort the rights of the child, and forcing them to live without a father or mother throughout their lives, by strongly trying to impose homosexuality. These are ideas that contradict any common sense, regardless of society or religion. It even violates the rights of the child according to Western principles. Did we not say that principles change without anyone noticing? Salman al-Dosari, Aawsat, 11.13.2022

And again:

For a long time, we have been witnessed successive insolence and annoyance from the extreme liberal West in its liberalism, regarding the normalization of homosexuality (among the two sexes, female and male). They have reached the point of abolishing humanity itself based on the duality of male and female, resulting in terrible tampering with the laws of life and human nature. They are even indoctrinating young children with these moral toxins. This is the most dangerous thing, they work from below, from the first degree in the life experience of human beings. Meshari al-Thaydi, Aawsat, 11.25.2022

Plus more of the same with respect to ongoing protests in Iran. From Abdullah Al-Otaibi:

The Iranian people are watching through all media, old and new, as their neighbors from among the peoples of the Gulf states enjoying stability, justice, freedom and prosperity. The Iranians cannot stop themselves from comparing the Gulf’s livelihood, security, achievements and well-being with the tragedies, injustice, poverty, backwardness and loss of the simplest means of modern human life [at home]. Aawsat, 11.20.2022

And from Tariq Homayed

This American-Democratic disregard and indulgence [for Iran’s drone sales to Russia] tells us that the Democrats would not have taken seriously the danger of the Iranian drones that targeted Saudi Arabia and the UAE by the Houthis. They did not care about its use in Iraq and Syria, nor about Hezbollah’s acquisition of it. All of this shows the American disregard for the security of the region and its population. when those drones targeted Ukraine, American and Western institutions moved to search for what it is, and trace its roots and details. Accordingly, we are facing American-Democratic negligence and indulgence telling us that we must exert more effort to reveal more details about Iranian armament, and raise awareness of its danger to the security of our region, and not to warn in a low voice, but with evidence, a loud voice, repetition, and professionalism. Aawsat, 11.23.2022
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