TIME Saudi Arabia

World’s Biggest Hotel to Open in Mecca in 2017

mecca-mega-hotel
Dar Al-Handasah

It'll have 10,000 bedrooms and 70 restaurants

The world’s biggest hotel is set to open in Mecca in 2017, offering an unprecedented level of luxury to travelers and royalty alike in Saudi Arabia.

The Abraj Kudai will cost about $3.6 billion, featuring 10,000 bedrooms, 70 restaurants and four helipads, The Guardian reported on Friday. At 45 stories tall, the desert fortress-style hotel boasts 12 towers atop a 10-story podium, which contains a bus station, food courts, a shopping mall and an extravagant ballroom. But five floors will be off limits to the most guests — they’re reserved exclusively for the Saudi royal family.

The Abraj Kudai was funded by the Saudi Ministry of Finance and designed by the Dar Al-Handasah group.

[The Guardian]

 

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Is Looking for Executioners to Carry Out Public Beheadings

A mock execution scene in protest of Saudi Arabia beheadings in Dhaka October 15, 2011
Andrew Biraj—Reuters A mock execution scene in protest of Saudi Arabia beheadings in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Oct 15, 2011

How long before they bring in the headhunters?

On Monday, eight new job openings for “religious functionaries” tasked with “carrying out the death sentence according to Islamic Shari’a after it is ordered by a legal ruling” appeared on the website of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Civil Service.

Capital punishment is administered for crimes like murder, rape, adultery, witchcraft and drug offenses in the Islamic kingdom, which is currently witnessing an uptick in beheadings under Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman, the New York Times reports.

In 2015, the pace of executions accelerated to 85 in just a few months — already set to eclipse last year’s total of 88 beheadings. It is not clear why there has been a sharp increase, but new judges have swiftly been plowing through a case backlog, according to Reuters.

The vacancies do not specify educational credentials or required skills, but the executioners are ideally adroit swordsmen, as the most common execution implement is a curved scimitar.

TIME Middle East

These 5 Facts Explain the Troubled U.S.-Arab Relationship

Obama Hosts Gulf Cooperation Council Summit at Camp David
Kevin Dietsch—AP Obama encourages Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to make a statement alongside Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.

A summit in Camp David shows the growing gap between the U.S. and its Arab allies, thanks to changing oil politics and aging leaders

President Barack Obama just concluded a two day summit with America’s Arab allies. The meeting wrapped up a rocky week that started when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman publicly withdrew from the summit and sent his son and his young nephew in his place. These 5 stats explain the tense relationship between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies, and the challenges those alliances will face going forward.

1. It’s the Oil, Stupid.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia comprise the grouping of monarchies in the Persian Gulf known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They are all major oil producers, with Saudi Arabia the heavyweight of the lot. Together they account for 24% of the world’s crude oil production. But after decades of critical dependence on their oil, America, thanks largely to the mid-2000s shale boom, has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to lead the world in oil production. The GCC has felt this acutely—Saudi Arabia saw its oil exports to the US plummet 23.74% between 2008 and 2014. The Saudis are not content to take this lying down. Riyadh is busy ramping up its own production (achieving a record high of 10.3 million barrels per day this past April) in an effort to drive down oil and price more expensive U.S. shale producers out of the global market.

(Middle East Monitor, Bloomberg, Energy Information Administration, Financial Times)

2. The Paradox of Plenty

While Saudis are increasing production largely to strengthen their long-term market position, the gambit poses significant short-term risks. Oil prices had already been tumbling for months, and the price of oil directly affects economies like that are heavily reliant upon the commodity. 45% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP comes directly from oil and gas, 40% of the UAE’s, and around 50-60% each for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. By keeping production high, Saudi Arabia is helping to keep oil prices low.

Economists often talk about the “resource curse,” when a country’s abundance of natural resources stunts the rest of its economy. In a healthy and balanced economy, the private sector should drive research, development and innovation. But only 20% of Bahraini nationals work in the private sector. The rest of the GCC are worse: a pitiful 0.5% of UAE nationals have the misfortune of private employment. The GCC countries have relied so long on oil that their workforces can’t compete in a globalized world. The ruling powers are keenly aware of this fact.

(Forbes, OPEC – UAE, OPEC – Qatar, OPEC – Kuwait, EIA, Al Jazeera)

3. Arab Spring, Still Blooming?

The GCC countries had a front-row seat to the Arab Spring. Beginning in 2011, countries throughout the Arab World erupted in demonstrations and protests, even bleeding into Bahrain and Kuwait. One of the main drivers of the movement was mass unemployment, which afflicts the affluent GCC as well. Ernst & Young estimates that unaddressed unemployment of youths aged 20-24 could eventually reach 40% across GCC member states. Those are numbers ripe for revolution.

The only thing scarier than the uprisings to the Gulf monarchs must have been the U.S. response to them. For years the understanding was that so long as the Gulf countries would keep the world market flush with oil, the U.S. would provide them with protection. Egypt had a variation of this type of relationship with Washington, but Obama wasted little time in throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus in 2011—at least as the GCC see it. If Egypt could be sacrificed at the altar of democracy, why couldn’t Saudi Arabia be next?

(Bloomberg, Ernst & Young)

4. The Threat of Iran

Looming over the GCC Summit is America’s reengagement with Iran. Washington’s greatest leverage over Tehran is the possibility of lifting sanctions in exchange for a nuclear deal. Experts estimate that Iran’s economy could grow anywhere from 2% to 5% in the first year after lifting sanctions, and then 7-8% the following 18 months. Those are rates on par with the remarkable growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1990s.

It’s not just the additional economic competition that worries the GCC. Saudi Arabia has spent the better part of the last decade combatting Iran’s influence across Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, even Bahrain—the end of sanctions would give Tehran additional financing to escalate the regional rivalry. Further destabilizing the region are serious threats posed by groups like ISIS. This is why the GCC sought a formal, Japan-style security alliance with the U.S. The leaders who showed up in Washington couldn’t get the pact they wanted—a treaty requiring Congressional approval is a nonstarter—but they did get assurances of America’s continued military support and significant arms sales.

(Financial Times, Vox, Reuters, Economist)

5. Age Matters

The absence of the Saudi king, along with his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, sent the message that the status quo in the Middle East cannot continue. Their snub of Obama was intended to project an image of strength in the region. But the reality is that the oil-dependent GCC countries have serious structural problems that will take generations to solve. Instead of dealing with four rulers with an average age of 75, Obama sat across from representatives with an average age of 56. This younger generation is poised to lead their countries for decades to come. After 70 years of intense engagement, it is clear that the GCC countries need America as much as ever. The question is how much America needs them.

(Crown Prince Court – UAE, Kingdom of Bahrain (a), Kingdom of Bahrain (b) AlJazeera, Reuters, BBC, Forbes, Al-Monitor, White House )

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi King’s Absence at Obama Summit Moves Spotlight to Mysterious Son

An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly-appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
EPA An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

With King Salman set to miss Obama's summit of Gulf nations, U.S. officials can size up his powerful son

On one hand, the announcement that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will not attend President Obama’s Camp David summit of Gulf Arab monarchs on Thursday, despite having earlier accepted the invitation, highlights all over again the considerable strains between Washington and Riyadh. In the four months since Salman came to power, the Kingdom has defied the U.S. by starting one war in Yemen and reviving the most problematical elements in another, sending new support to the Syrian opposition forces that include the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, the king’s absence—ostensibly to deal with a brief cease-fire in Yemen, but widely viewed as a snub—will give U.S. officials a chance to size up the young fellow who the monarch has invested with immense new powers: His son, also known as the Minister of Defense, as well as president of the royal court. Mohammad bin Salman may be 29, as some accounts have it, or 34, the age offered in other reports. Or somewhere in between. The uncertainty speaks volumes about how little is known of the fresh-faced young prince, derided by the Supreme Leader of arch-rival Iran as “an inexperienced youngster.”

“I don’t think anybody knows who he is,” says F. Gregory Gause III, head of the international affairs department of the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. “He’s never had a job where he had a counterpart with Americans in bilateral talks. I think there’ll be plenty of people looking to size him up.”

The jobs that young bin Salman holds are known well enough. Defense is a ministry awash in money. “That’s where the rake-offs occur in the system,” says Charles A. Freeman, who was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. And head of the royal court is basically chief of staff, putting the king’s son in daily charge of the ruling apparatus.

But the lack of information about bin Salman himself says a great deal about how fast the ground is shifting in the Middle East—and especially in the House of Saud, the family that has ruled the Kingdom since it appeared on the sands of the Arabian Peninsula in 1932. Saudi-watchers used to be the Middle East’s version of the Kremlinologists who studied the Soviet Union. The players in both places moved at processional speed and change, should it occur, was glacial. But then Salman took power following the January death of his brother Abdullah, who ruled for 10 years.

“Basically what’s happened in Saudi Arabia since the death of Abdullah is a series of political coup d’etats,” says Freeman. “In Arabia, genealogy is ideology and lineage really is faction. In any one-party system you have factions, and in a one-family system you have factions.” Despite Salman’s reputation as a conciliator between branches of the family, since ascending to the throne, Freeman says, “he’s basically cut them all out.”

Salman, 79, was expected to be the Saudi ruler who prepared for the inevitable transfer of power to a younger generation of Saudi princes. But rather than casting the net wide, he designated his nephew as the new Crown Prince—the first grandson of the founding King, Abdulaziz, to be so named—and his own young son Mohammad as Deputy Crown Prince, or second in line. The nephew is already well known in Washington: Mohammad bin Nayef, 55, has long been Interior Minister and run the Saudis’ counter-terror operations; he has twice met with President Obama in the Oval Office. But in selecting him, the king reached past hundreds of waiting princes.

“The model was kind of corporate leadership within a number of senior members of the older generation, and they didn’t always get along and they didn’t always agree, but they had a general corporate sense of where they wanted the country to go and it worked well for more than 50 years,” says Gause. “I thought the new king would try to recreate that kind of corporate responsibility across a number of people in the new generation, but that’s obviously not what Salman wanted. He’s privileged a couple of people and cut out a large number. And how that affects family cohesion down the line will be interesting to watch.”

For now, the war in Yemen, aimed at a Shi’ite rebel group advancing in the neighboring state, has provided a rallying effect at home. It also had the effect of forcing the U.S. to provide battlefield intelligence and targeting information (“not to support them would leave the relationship with no content,” says Freeman). But the fundamental problem remains Iran, the Saudis’ great regional rival. Riyadh feels threatened not only by Tehran’s gains in Iraq and Yemen, and continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, but—even more—by Obama’s engagement with the Iranians. Along with fellow members of the Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council, they feel threatened by the attention Washington is paying to Iran, in a region where attention equals prestige, or even license. Already almost wholly reliant on the U.S. for their defense, the Gulf Arab monarchs are asking for a formal treating with Washington guaranteeing their protection, something Obama officials say they cannot provide.

“I think their fears that we are going to just throw them over and that Iran will be our big ally in the region are greatly exaggerated,” says Gause. But those are the fears that prompted the Obama administration to convene the Camp David summit. And if King Salman cannot make it, Freeman says, he may have sussed it out as a “pseudo-event.”

“The Saudis and others have learned from Israel that you can give the United States the bird,” says Freeman. But that, the former ambassador adds, may work out for the best at Camp David. “Having the two Mohammads—bin Nayef and bin Salman—in this thing puts the two people who are actually running things in there. So if there’s something that’s actually going on in Saudi Arabia, these are the two who can make things happen.”

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Salman to Miss Gulf Nation Summit in U.S.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz looks on during the welcoming ceremony for Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani upon his arrival in Riyadh to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit
Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz looks on during the welcoming ceremony for Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani upon his arrival in Riyadh to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit on May 5, 2015.

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says that King Salman will not attend an upcoming summit of heads of Gulf Cooperation Council countries at Camp David.

In a statement Sunday, al-Jubeir said the summit coincided with a humanitarian cease-fire in the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Shiite rebels known as Houthis. He said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also interior minister, would lead the Saudi delegation and the king’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is defense minister, will also attend.

The White House had previously said Obama would meet one-on-one with Salman a day before the Thursday summit.

The king, who took power in January after his brother King Abdullah died, has not traveled abroad since his ascension to the throne.

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Foiled ISIS Attack on U.S. Embassy, Official Says

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki listens to journalists questions during a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Hasan Jamali—AP Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki listens to journalists questions during a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 24, 2015.

Authorities also announced the arrest of a total of 93 people with ties to ISIS

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — Saudi authorities say they have arrested a total of 93 people with ties to the Islamic State group in recent months, foiling their plans to carry out terrorist attacks including a strike on the U.S. Embassy in the kingdom’s capital.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said Tuesday the arrests include a cell of 65 people arrested in March who were involved in a plan that included targeting residential compounds, prisons and security forces.

He says authorities also disrupted a plot for a suicide car bomber to attack the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh after receiving information about the plan in mid-March.

U.S. officials halted all consular services for a week starting March 15 at the embassy and two other diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia over security fears.

TIME Innovation

Are We Breaking Up With Saudi Arabia?

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Is the special Saudi-U.S. relationship on the rocks?

By Ray Takeyh at the Council on Foreign Relations

2. Two-year degrees can really pay off.

By Liz Weston at Reuters

3. A self-contained urban farm, delivered in a box, could slash water use by 90 percent.

By Danny Crichton in TechCrunch

4. How a lake full of methane could power Rwanda and DR Congo.

By Jonathan W. Rosen in MIT Technology Review

5. Nope, we’re not going to live on crickets in the near-future.

By Brooke Borel in Popular Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. America loves to take sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, we shouldn’t.

By Paul R. Pillar in the National Interest

2. Here’s why Congress should drop the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges. (It’s because they work.)

By Kevin Robert Frost at CNN

3. Cheap coal is a lie.

By Al Gore and David Blood in the Guardian

4. How small-batch distilling could save family farms.

By Andrew Amelinckx in Modern Farmer

5. Can you fix city management with data? Mike Bloomberg is betting $42 million you can.

By Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Why do we need human pilots again?

By John Markoff in the New York Times

2. We thought education would unlock the potential of Arab women. We were half right.

By Maysa Jalbout at the Brookings Institution

3. Peru found a 1,000 year-old solution to its water crisis.

By Fred Pearce in New Scientist

4. Why Saudi Arabia might need to break the country in two to “win” its war in Yemen.

By Peter Salisbury in Vice

5. Startup accelerators are great…we think.

By Randall Kempner and Peter Roberts in the Wall Street Journal

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Yemen

The Crisis in Yemen Intensifies as Houthi Fighters Push Deeper Into Aden

A man shows the damage inside his house after an air strike in the Okash village near Sanaa
Mohamed Al-Sayaghi—Reuters A man shows the damage inside his house after an air strike in the Okash village near Sanaa, Yemen on April 4, 2015.

Saudi-led air strikes have failed to reverse the rebels' momentum

Houthi militia inched closer Sunday to capturing the port city of Aden, where Saudi-backed forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi continue to hold out.

The Shi‘ite rebels unleashed artillery barrages on residential areas in the city and targeted a pro-Hadi television station with mortar rounds, forcing it off the air, reports AFP.

“There are bodies in the streets, and we can’t get close because there are Houthi snipers on the rooftops. Anything that gets near, they shoot at,” an unidentified medic told Reuters.

Houthi militants continue to consolidate control over large swaths of Yemen, despite 11 days of air strikes from a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf Arab states.

The Houthi assault on one of President Hadi’s last remaining strongholds comes as more than a hundred members of a Sunni Islamist political party were rounded up by Shi‘ite militiamen on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has called for the immediate imposition of a 24-hour cease-fire across Yemen to allow for the evacuation of the wounded to prevent further loss of life.

“Our relief supplies and surgical personnel must be allowed to enter the country and safely reach the worst-affected places to provide help,” said Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC’s operations in the Middle East, in a statement. “Otherwise, put starkly, many more people will die. For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days.”

Health officials in Aden claim that at least 185 people have been killed and 1,282 injured in the city since March 26, reports the BBC. However, the figure does not include rebel casualties or residents killed by air strikes.

Last week, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos called on both sides to do more to protect civilians trapped in the middle of the conflict.

“Those engaged in fighting must ensure that hospitals, schools, camps for refugees and those internally displaced and civilian infrastructure, especially in populated areas, are not targeted or used for military purposes,” said Amos.

Read next: Pakistan Says Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen Wants Troops

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