Saudi Arabia bashed for reckless coronavirus response

Ahead of G20 'virtual meeting', Saudi bashed for reckless oil price war and coronavirus response
4 min read
25 March, 2020
Saudi Arabia is facing stern criticism ahead of a G20 meeting to tackle Covid-19, with the kingdom accused of aggravating jittery markets in an oil price war with Russia.
G20 talks have been complicated by an oil price war between Riyadh and Moscow. [Getty]
Saudi Arabia is facing criticism over "reckless" behaviour that could make the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout worse, even as Riyadh convenes a virtual G20 meeting on the fast-spreading contagion.  

A United States lawmaker, campaign groups and online activists have all criticised Riyadh for aggravating already-jittery markets with an oil price war with Russia, and for bombing hospitals in Yemen and leaving civilians vulnerable to Covid-19 there. 
The criticism comes as Saudi Arabia, which holds the rotating chair of the Group of 20 major world economies, convenes a virtual leaders' meeting on Thursday to discuss a fiscal stimulus to buoy a faltering global economy. 
Sunjeev Bery, the executive director of Freedom Forward, an anti-autocrat campaign group, said the young Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, was a "terrible host" for tackling the pandemic. 
"The Saudi ruler is an extraordinarily reckless individual who risks making the global coronavirus pandemic even worse," Bery told The New Arab. 

Saudi Arabia is facing criticism over 'reckless' behaviour that could make the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout worse

"He has already destroyed Yemen's ability to withstand the coronavirus through his endless bombardment and blockades. Now, he is adding to the instability of the global economy by launching an oil price war with Russia." 
The criticism came as some 20,000 web-users had signed online petitions calling on political chiefs and business executives to boycott the Saudi-led G20 process, ahead of the group's scheduled two-day summit in Riyadh in November. 

Read more: Mohammed bin Salman's insatiable lust for power could sink Saudi Arabia
Meanwhile, Ro Khanna, a Democratic lawmaker from California who was has worked with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on legislation to halt Saudi Arabia's military assault in Yemen, called the kingdom the "wrong host" for a G20 summit. 

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"They are an authoritarian regime with no respect for human rights and [have] perpetuated the world's worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen," Khanna tweeted to his nearly 205,000 social media followers last week. 

On Tuesday, the campaign group Amnesty International released a list of some 220 civil society groups that were opposed to Saudi's G20 chairmanship, saying Riyadh had used the process to "whitewash its dire human rights record". 
Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington did not answer a request for comment. 
Leaders of G20 economies will convene a video conference this week to discuss the coronavirus contagion that has claimed more than 17,000 lives and infected more than 400,000 people globally, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally of confirmed cases.  
The group, which has been criticised for arriving late to the crisis, is set to hash out an "action plan" to address the economic fallout from the pandemic, as shuttering businesses, mass layoffs and tumbling stock markets prompt fears of a deep global recession. 

Read more: 
Coronavirus gives GCC markets a glimpse of post-oil reality

Talks have been complicated by an oil price war between two members, Saudi and Russia, who both cut oil prices earlier this month in a bid to maintain market share after they failed to agree on how to act on failing oil demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Saudi ruler is an extraordinarily reckless individual who risks making the global coronavirus pandemic even worse
-Sunjeev Bery, executive director of Freedom Forward

John Kemp, an expert on the hydrocarbon market, has urged Riyadh to "call a truce" with Moscow and avert the "supremely dangerous" fallout from an oil price war amid a global health emergency and a sharp economic downturn. 
Critics also point to Saudi Arabia's military operations in Yemen, where it has led a military coalition since 2015 to fight the Iran-aligned Houthis and restore the government that the rebel movement toppled at the end of 2014. 
A report this month from Mwatana for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights, two research and advocacy groups, accused the coalition, the Houthis and Yemen's government of some 120 violent attacks on medical facilities and health workers since March 2015. 

Read more: The Middle East at war with coronavirus

Researchers tallied 35 airstrikes on Yemeni hospitals since the war began, saying that the coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates and gets support from Britain and the United States, may have committed war crimes there. 

On Tuesday, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a key aid group operating in Yemen, said the country's ravaged healthcare system had left Yemeni civilians exposed to a virus that could yet reach the turbulent southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. 
"We're extremely concerned that on top of everything else, the possibility of coronavirus reaching Yemen will have devastating consequences for an already overstretched health system and vulnerable population," said Mohammed Abdi, NRC's Yemen-based director. 
"Five years of war have crippled Yemen's ability to respond to any outbreak and it is now a race against time to prepare."

James Reinl is a journalist, editor and current affairs analyst. He has reported from more than 30 countries and won awards for covering wars in Sri Lanka, Congo and Somalia, Haiti's earthquake and human rights abuses in Iran.

Follow him on Twitter: @jamesreinl