Biden’s team realized Saudi relationship was too big to fail, Politico columnist tells Arab News 

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Updated 12 July 2022

Biden’s team realized Saudi relationship was too big to fail, Politico columnist tells Arab News 

  • US needs Kingdom on several fronts, President never intended to treat Riyadh as pariah, says Elise Labott
  • Biden will meet Saudi king and crown prince for talks on addressing joint issues: Saudi embassy spokesman

CHICAGO: US President Joe Biden publicly denounced Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” while privately sending back-channel emissaries to try to restore the relationship between the two allies, an influential analyst has told Arab News.

Elise Labott, the former global affairs correspondent with the broadcaster CNN who is now a columnist with Politico magazine, had access to highly placed US and Saudi sources — both on and off the record — for an article published recently in the magazine.

Speaking on “The Ray Hanania Show,” which is produced by Arab News and broadcast weekly on the US Arab Radio network, she said: “Let’s be honest, I don’t think that President Biden ever really intended to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah when he came to office and make that his policy, but the politics kind of got in the way and they were trying to move forward on the policy, but in secret because of the politics. After a while, the Saudis did want to repair the relationship. So, they did a lot of what the US asked them to do.

“But finally, they were just like, all right, in or out? There have been a series of visits over the course of the last year or so. National security adviser Jake Sullivan went out there. CIA director Bill Burns went out there.”

Labott said there was a recognition in the White House that “there are problems in the relationship … on the wider human rights front, but then whether it's security, or economically or in the region, the Saudis are a valuable partner and the US does need to reset the relationship.”

Other issues encouraged a recalibration, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and soaring fuel prices in the US, Labott said.

“I think that when President Biden was on the campaign trail as a candidate he promised, of course, to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah state, make them pay the price, and for a while they were pretty standoffish, but I think as time wore on, and certainly the war in Ukraine was really a catalyst for this, the US saw that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was too big to fail. And so, you had rising gas prices. You had the war inUkraine. You had a whole host of things where the US would look to that solid partner over the years, Saudi Arabia — this is a 75-year-old relationship.

“And because the Saudis, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, were being kind of ostracized, finally they had had enough. Even though President Biden was saying this in public, in private he was sending emissaries to Saudi Arabia to say look, we want to reset the relationship. We want to move forward.

“And kind of in secret almost, there was this back-channel diplomacy going on for the last year or so in which the two sides were trying to make progress on a whole host of issues.”

Labott said Saudi influence on the global price of oil amid US domestic anger over the cost of fuel at the pumps was a driver of White House thinking — but far from the only one. “Well, a lot of people are reducing it to the oil and the Saudis are the biggest swing producer,” she said.

“The US is looking to them to stabilize markets, everyone is going to fill their car with gas at the pump, its over $5 and some places it’s $7, so the initial thought is can we get the Saudis to increase oil production so that will ease the pain?

“I think that the Saudis ultimately are playing hard to get, with the US having agreed to some oil production, I don’t think that’s going to make much of a difference for the US economy in the long run, that’s what experts say.

“I think if it is anything from stabilizing some of the economies in the region like Lebanon, for instance, or playing a mediator in Iraq or reaching out to Iran. Normalization with Israel. And then there is, you know, Saudi Arabia is on the Red Sea and there is a whole keeping trade lanes open in the Red Sea and mediating with Africa.

“If you look across the globe, most major foreign policy issues particularly in that part of the world, Saudi Arabia is the ‘gorilla in the room,’ and you can’t really get anything done if you don’t have them on the inside.”

Washington had functional relationships with many states without agreeing with them on every issue, Labott said, and it was important for the US to realize that it could not bend a country to its will. “Whether it’s in the UAE or Saudi or Bahrain or these Gulf states, they’re monarchies they’re not democracies, but if you ask the people by and large there’s not a lot of dissent … if you ask the Saudis whether they approve of Mohammed bin Salman, if you held an election, I think he’d win hands down. I think it’s recognizing these leaders as imperfect as they are and trying to find a way to move forward instead of trying to bend them to our will.”

As for what the US expected of Saudi Arabia, Labott said: “I think it’s just showing that leadership in the region that the US is looking for and that could be anything from standing on the right side of democracy against the war in Ukraine.

“We have one goal right now and that’s to beat Putin, and we need the Saudis to help us do that, so that means not doing anything with the oil market that will embolden President Putin … maybe not supporting sanctions in the way the US wants them to, but don’t do anything that will help President Putin, and I think if the Saudis want to be that leader, that’s what the US is looking for them to do.”
The radio show also featured an interview with Fahad Nazer, spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, who said that contrary to the views of some pundits there was a genuine appreciation in Washington of the important role played by Saudi Arabia and the significance of the relationship with the US. Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia next month as part of his first Middle East trip was evidence of that, Nazer said.

“This dialogue goes a long way but I think there is an appreciation in Washington, as far as I can tell among congressional leaders and in the administration, that Saudi Arabia plays a very important role globally … in stabilizing international energy markets,” he said.
“We play an important role in helping bring stability and helping resolve some of the political crises in the region including the Yemen war … and we have played the leading role over the years in pushing back onmilitant non-state actors like Daesh, Al-Qaeda, the Houthis, Hezbollah and others. So, I think there is an appreciation for that very constructive role that the Kingdom plays.”

Nazer confirmed that Biden would hold separate meetings during his visit with King Salman and the crown prince, with a wide range of issues on the agenda. “The two leaders will discuss bilateral cooperation and joint efforts to address regional and global challenges including some of the newer challenges that the international community faces including cyber security, climate change, and environmental initiatives,” he said.

“At the same time the Kingdom is hosting a summit that will include the leaders of the GCC countries as well as the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and obviously President Biden will be attending that as well.”

Arab countries remained critically important role players in these discussions with “our most important strategic ally in the world,” Nazer said.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here:

Saudi Arabia reaffirms global humanitarian efforts for needy, refugees and displaced

Updated 31 min 26 sec ago

Saudi Arabia reaffirms global humanitarian efforts for needy, refugees and displaced

  • Support "include all countries of the world without discrimination," says KSrelief
  • Kingdom's total spending on humanitarian aid in past 4 decades is over $115 billion in 90 countries 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday reaffirmed its commitment to continue strengthening its support for refugees and displaced around the world, on the occasion of World Refugee Day.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) said the humanitarian support "include all countries of the world without discrimination." 

Since its founding in May 2015 as an international center specialized in humanitarian aid, KSRelief has so far carried out 2,984 projects in 99 countries as it continues to expand its work for the needy and people affected by wars and calamities.

Support for refugees and displaced people in Syria, Palestine, Myanmar and Yemen alone were carried out through 424 humanitarian projects with a value of over $1.18 billion. The projects include food and agricultural security, protection and health services, shelter, early recovery and education. 

Infographic courtesy of

KSrelief also supported those displaced in other countries by implementing 304 multiple projects worth more than $2.19 billion,

Saudi Arabia is also host to a big number of people from countries affected by war. Refugees from Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar alone constitute 5.5 percent of the Kingdom’s population, said the SPA report.

Per the latest census by the Kingdom's General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT), the Kingdom had a total population of 32.175 million. That would place the number of virtual refugees from the Yemen, Syria and Myanmar at over 1.76 million.

As noted by SPA, the Kingdom provides these visitors "with the opportunity for free treatment and education, and is keen on their integration into society."

Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian aid and relief efforts actually goes back decades.

According to the Saudi non-profit organization Salam, the Kingdom’s total spending on humanitarian aid in the past four decades has reached over $115 billion, covering more than 90 countries.

"Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to different countries, solving humanitarian crises, and relieving people suffering after wars or natural disasters. These aids are granted without any bias or prejudice to religion or ethnicity," said Salam in its website

How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

Updated 21 June 2024

How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

  • AI solutions designed to solve specific business problems are having a profound impact on how firms operate
  • Braincell leverages AI to enhance processes, from logistics and healthcare to banking and smart cities

RIYADH: Automated decision-making allows businesses to make faster, more accurate and more consistent decisions by analyzing large datasets without the risk of human error. That is why, as Saudi Arabia expands its digital economy, such tools are becoming more widely used in the Kingdom.

One firm that is leading the charge in this area is the Saudi startup Braincell, which helps businesses streamline processes and enhance decision-making through automation and artificial intelligence integration.

“Braincell has created a data governance platform and data workflow platform that enables AI solutions to be connected at ease, making it a one-stop shop for data needs,” Abdulhameed Khairaldeen, Braincell’s business development director, told Arab News.

AI solutions, which leverage AI techniques and technologies to solve specific business problems, are poised to have a profound impact on how firms operate. Already, large language models like ChatGPT are taking on rudimentary tasks in a range of industries.

“Braincell clients can choose to work on their own LLMs and on-premises models or even connect to the likes of OpenAI’s ChatGPT,” said Khairaldeen.

Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies. (Supplied)

With the Kingdom’s mission to become a global leader among data-driven economies, new AI startups are emerging every day with the goal of contributing to the fast-growing sector. Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies.

Since its establishment, Braincell has focused on empowering businesses through technology, data and interconnected systems with the mission of enhancing efficiency in business flow regardless of the sector.

In particular, Braincell is connecting leaders, executives, organizations and governments to systems that will allow faster and more effective decision-making.

Braincell leverages AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations. (Supplied)

Asked how Braincell helps firms improve their employee productivity, the company’s senior data consultant, Shatha bin Shaalan, said: “We use AI and automation in our platform to automate the repetitive tasks that we do every day, ensuring that our clients get the benefit of maximum efficiency while reducing human errors and manual efforts.”

Braincell is leveraging AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations across sectors including healthcare, data, banking, supply chains, manufacturing, and smart buildings and cities.

In healthcare, Braincell’s technology fosters an environment for improved patient outcomes by working with clients to build metric-driven healthcare systems, creating scalable digital health ecosystems that reduce errors through automation.


• In healthcare, Braincell improves patient outcomes through metric-driven systems that reduce errors.

• In banking, it performs real-time monitoring, streamlines processes, detects fraud, and monitors risk.

• In smart buildings, it collects data on energy consumption, air quality, and occupancy to improve efficiency.

Some of its services include comprehensive insights into personalized care and streamlined clinical processes.

In banking, Braincell is utilizing AI to enhance the customer experience by streamlining and organizing processes that in turn will reduce manual errors.

Shutterstock illustration image

Through Braincell’s banking command center, real-time monitoring also detects fraud, monitors risk management and enhances strategic decision-making.

Applied to smart buildings and cities, Braincell offers new ways to improve the experience of residents. One example is the firm’s data integration and sensor deployment that collects data on energy consumption, air quality, occupancy levels and other relevant parameters.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Braincell’s use of automation in smart buildings and cities also improves energy efficiency by using advanced AI algorithms to control smart lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that adjust settings based on occupancy and environmental conditions.

The company has more than 100 active users, and boasts the ability to process 120 billion records in a matter of seconds using AI.

It aims to help businesses make reliable decisions by connecting data sources and consolidating them in a comprehensive way that is easier for clients to access, resulting in higher quality, accuracy and consistency through the use of AI automation.

“The data platform is highly customizable with a very simple setup,” said Bin Shaalan, the firm’s senior data consultant. “It’s dynamic and fits all needs as it integrates with many systems adopted here in the Kingdom.”

Braincell has signed memorandums of understanding with multiple partners including the Ministry of Health, the Public Investment Fund, the National Unified Procurement Company and supply chain specialist XPL Solutions.

The firm has also created a data governance and data workflow platform to help companies comply with National Data Management Office regulations in the Kingdom.


No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

Updated 21 June 2024

No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

  • Prince Khalid bin Bandar was speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference
  • Said Kingdom’s position on Arab-Israeli conflict has never changed

LONDON: Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian statehood, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said on Thursday.

Speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference, Prince Khalid bin Bandar said that normalization remained important to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region because it would ensure peace, stability and security.
He admitted that “compromises would have to be made” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he said affected the world in a way other conflicts did not.

“If what is happening (in Gaza) keeps happening, we are going to go down a path that is irreversible,” Prince Khalid said. 

“The further we get away from finding a solution, the more people lose hope, the more we’re at that point, it’s going to spread to a regional conflict. It’s important for everyone to recognisze the danger of what lies ahead. The conflict will not remain regional, it will become international very quickly,” he said.

But Prince Khalid said that normalization would be “irrelevant” until the plight of Palestinians was resolved.

“We believe in the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the conflict,” he said. “If it was easy, we’d have done it by now but without that, normalization is irrelevant. There is no point having normalization because we would still have conflict and conflict is the problem, not normalization.

“There is no point in discussing everything else until we find a solution. Once we do that, everything is on the table.”

Prince Khalid said that the Kingdom was “one of the most important countries in the region,” which had “leverage” in opening up the Arab and Muslim world to Israel and for it not to play a role in brokering a solution would be “silly.” 

But he added for that to happen, Israel “needs to play ball as well,” adding that the price for finding a solution was an independent Palestinian state.

The ambassador bemoaned how little global coverage the Saudi position on the crisis received, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent Hajj address, in which he reiterated calls for an immediate halt to attacks in Gaza.

“It’s important to recognize our position, which has never changed, despite people never listening to us,” Prince Khalid said.

“The crown prince’s positon, Saudi Arabia’s position, his majesty (King Salman)’s position, the government’s position and the will of almost every Saudi I know is we need a Palestinian state.

“The offer was made in the Arab Peace Initiative; on 1967 borders, a Palestinian state, a two-state solution and everyone lives happily ever after. It goes back to 1982, King Fahd presented the same offer, it has not been taken up, I find it mystifying.

“The crown prince stated very clearly, we need a ceasefire, an irreversible solution for the Palestinians and then there’s peace everywhere, it wasn’t even reported.

“It’s annoying and frustrating for us because the world assumes something totally different and that’s not helping the situation,” he said.

Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

Updated 20 June 2024

Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

  • Event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies
  • Forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies

RIYADH: The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center is set to host the Advanced Therapies Forum which will take place from June 23-24, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies. It will aim to foster a collaborative environment where industrial partners can showcase their research and forge strategic alliances with healthcare institutions.

The forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies. It also strives to increase the number of clinical research studies in the fields of T-cell therapy and gene therapy.

Industrial partners, including pharmaceutical companies of all sizes, will have the opportunity to explore avenues for launching clinical research initiatives at KFSH&RC.

The forum will feature 15 keynote speeches, over 30 presentations on ongoing projects by industry leaders, five panel discussions, and numerous other sessions. The goal is to cultivate a shared vision for the future of advanced therapies in the Kingdom and to localize manufacturing technology for cellular and gene therapies.

In recent years, KFSH&RC has emerged as a beacon of hope for patients who faced limited treatment options, using genetically modified immune cells to successfully treat more than 120 individuals.

The journey began with a positive outcome for the first child from the region to be treated using T-cells. More recently, the hospital successfully applied advanced gene therapy to eight patients with hereditary hemophilia. The single-dose therapy effectively elevated levels of the missing clotting factor, empowering patients to reclaim their lives.

KFSH&RC has been ranked 20th among the top 250 academic healthcare institutions worldwide, according to SPA, and has held the top spot in the Middle East and Africa region for two consecutive years.

Currently, more than 30 gene and genetically modified cell therapies have been officially approved for clinical use. Experts predict that the global cell and gene therapy market is poised for exponential growth, outpacing the traditional pharmaceutical industry to surpass a staggering $50 billion annually by 2027.

It is estimated that more than 2 million patients will benefit from T-cell therapy within the next decade, with more than a thousand clinical research studies actively underway across the globe.

Award-winning Saudi film ‘Norah’ premieres in theaters across the Kingdom

A special screening of award-winning Saudi film “Norah” was held on Wednesday night at Roshn Front’s Vox Cinema.
Updated 20 June 2024

Award-winning Saudi film ‘Norah’ premieres in theaters across the Kingdom

  • “Norah” achieved great success at the 78th annual Cannes International Film Festival
  • Film was first screened last December at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it won the “Best Saudi Film” award

RIYADH: The award-winning Saudi film “Norah” made its premiere in the Kingdom on Thursday after its international success at the Cannes Film Festival.

A special screening was held on Wednesday night at Roshn Front’s Vox Cinema, where director Tawfik Al-Zaidi was in attendance alongside the film’s star, Maria Bahrawi, and her acclaimed co-stars Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Sadhan.

Al-Farhan told Arab News: “To be accepted in Cannes is an indication of how important this film is, and also an indication of how much progress the film industry (has made) here.

“Although it’s still the beginning of it, we’re starting to see the results of the huge work that’s happening right now.

“I’m very positive about the future. If this is the beginning, I think after five or 10 years, we’ll be seeing a lot of great films from Saudi.”

“Norah” achieved great success at the 78th annual Cannes International Film Festival, where it was the official selection for the “Un Certain Regard” competition, one of the most critical titles of the event. It also received the Special Mention from the jury, making it the most notably recognized Saudi film at Cannes.

The film takes place in a remote Saudi village in the 90s, where Norah (played by Bahrawi) dreams of seeing horizons beyond her small village. As a new teacher, Nader (played by Al-Farhan) makes his way to her hometown, and Norah’s world begins to open up through art, knowledge and creativity, leading her to discover more about her own family history.

“The fact that they chose me for the role only two weeks before production was a surprise for me. But, thankfully, my first role in a film was a success and reached international audiences. I’m very proud and happy that today it’ll be in cinemas and the world can see it, and I’m excited to see people’s reactions,” Bahrawi told Arab News.

While it was first screened last December at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it won the “Best Saudi Film” award, the nationwide cinema premiere is a culmination of the film’s journey to its intended audience: the Saudi public.

Bahrawi said: “The fact that they chose me for the role only two weeks before production was a surprise for me. But, thankfully, my first role in a film was a success and reached international audiences. I’m very proud and happy that today it’ll be in cinemas and the world can see it, and I’m excited to see people’s reactions.

“Since I was young, I’ve always dreamed of being an actress, and today I can say that I’ve reached that and acted in my first film as a lead role… AlUla was the city that made my first dream come true.”

Taking public participation even further, a competition was presented to the public last Thursday inviting all girls named Norah to play a part. About 500 girls took part, and two winners received tickets to the special pre-screening event.

“Norah” is the first Saudi feature to be filmed entirely in AlUla. “The city itself and its locations really complemented the film’s story, so that was a wonderful choice for the location,” Bahrawi said.

While the film is both Bahrawi’s debut on the big screen and Al-Zaidi’s first feature film, it was also a personal experience for Al-Farhan, who is widely known for his role in the TV mini series “Rashash.”

“There’s so many similarities between me and the character, which is why it’s a very personal project for me and it’s so dear to my heart, especially after the achievement of the Cannes Film Festival,” he said.

In preparation for the role, Al-Farhan spent time with a professional sketch artist in order to learn the craft for his role — even simple things like holding a pencil the right way.

He said that the beginning sketches featured in the film were his own work, but the final results were “by a real artist.”

Production was supported by the Film Commission through Daw, a national initiative to support and encourage Saudi filmmakers. The film also received support from Film AlUla, the Red Sea Film Fund and Generation 2030.

The inspiration for “Norah” came to Al-Zaidi in 2015 from his need to express something within him. In the same way that Al-Farhan’s character, Nader, portrays his feelings on sketchbooks and canvases, Al-Zaidi uses the big screen.

He told Arab News: “I’m a lover of art in all its forms, whether its music, drawing or visiting museums, cinema encapsulates all of these arts and shows them beautifully through a film’s crew.

“I wanted to create these emotions between two people who love art, Norah and Nader. Art is a means of communication between people, and a means of expression as well.”

As the Saudi film scene continues to develop and grow toward global horizons, Al-Zaidi is confident that the industry can overcome challenges.

“Challenges will always be there, but as they say, ‘success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’ ... if you believe in yourself, you will get there,” he said.