Saudi ambassador to Germany worries dissidents in exile | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.02.2019
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Saudi ambassador to Germany worries dissidents in exile

Saudi Arabia has appointed a new ambassador to Germany. There are hopes he will help improve ties between the countries, but Saudi dissidents view his appointment with great concern following the Khashoggi murder.

Saudi Arabia's leader, King Salman, has appointed Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud as the monarchy's new ambassador to Germany. While official channels at the Saudi and German foreign ministries have remained mute on the matter, Germany's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jörg Ranau, used the embassy's official Twitter account to congratulate the new ambassador in fluent Arabic: "We congratulate the newly nominated ambassador to Germany, Prince Faisal bin Farhan."

Faisal, who was born in Germany, in turn, thanked Ranau for his support — in perfect German.

Before embarking on his diplomatic career, Faisal held high-ranking positions in Saudi and international companies, predominantly in the aviation and arms industry. He remains on the board of Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI). Most recently, Faisal served as an adviser to Saudi King Salman and as an assistant to the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Read more: Saudi Arabia is Germany's second-best weapons customer

Diplomatic spat

Faisal's appointment follows months of diplomatic tension between Saudi Arabia and Germany. In November 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri surprisingly announced his resignation in a televised speech from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Observers suspected Hariri, who has Saudi citizenship, had been held in Riyadh against his will and forced to resign. Hariri later rescinded the resignation.

In response, Germany's then-foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, lashed out against Saudi Arabia, saying that Europe must make it clear "that we will no longer sit by silently and tolerate the adventurism that has become widespread there in recent months." Following Gabriel's criticism, the Gulf monarchy withdrew its ambassador to Germany in protest.   

Relationship returns to normal

Many Saudi Twitter users welcomed the appointment of the new apparent ambassador to Germany.

"The appointment of the new ambassador carries great importance," Saudi writer and journalist Hani Naqshbandi told DW. "But both countries' shared interests are even more important. They will help overcome the recent conflict."

Naqshbandi added that Saudi Arabia is eager to implement what it calls its Vision 2030 reform agenda, which he said will the Saudis eager to establish an amicable relationship with Germany.

"It was an honor to swear an oath before King Salman to be ambassador to Germany," Faisal tweeted in German. "This duty is very special to me as Germany is the country of my birth. I will spare no effort in my service to good relations between both our countries."

Concern among dissidents

Saudi critics of the Gulf monarchy living in exile in Germany, however, see Faisal's appointment with great concern.

Saudi dissident Prince Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud, a distant relative of Faisal, lives under police protection in Germany and said he fears the new ambassador could have been sent to Germany to persecute Saudi opposition figures such as himself.

Khalid told DW he feels threatened and is extremely concerned about Faisal's close relationship with powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is suspected of having a role in planning or at least condoning the assassination of Saudi dissent journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October. 

A protester holds up a photo of Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul (imago/Depo Photos)

Khashoggi's murder raised worries among many dissidents inside and out of Saudi Arabia

Ali Aldubisi, who heads the Berlin-based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), shared this concern. He told DW "one of the Saudi Embassy's main tasks is to monitor and weaken the opposition." Adding that this is "why the German government should pay close attention to who enters the country."

Read more: UN expert: Jamal Khashoggi killing planned by Saudis

The Saudi Embassy in Berlin did not respond to a request for comment regarding the situation of Saudi dissidents in Germany.

What do German parliamentarians think?

Ulrich Lechte, a member of German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee from the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), said that while embassies gather information about civil society activism, including actions taken by their own citizens, the laws of the host country need to be observed.

"It must be clear that we do not accept dissidents being harassed or abducted or anything worse than that," Lechte told DW. "All people in Germany are protected by our constitution and our free democratic order."

Read more: Saudi human rights activist Ali Adubisi agitates from Berlin

Sevim Dagdelen of Germany's Left Party was fiercely critical of Faisal's appointment.

"His move to the Saudi embassy in Berlin does not bode well for the future," Dagdelen told DW.

She said it bodes ill for dissidents in Germany that Faisal is regarded as a close ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who many contend ordered Khashoggi's murder.

As a board member of Saudi defense company SAMI, Faisal will "first and foremost" strive to pave the way towards new arms deals, Dagdelen said.

For a man who has not yet presented his credentials to the German president, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud has polarized more than many diplomats who have been in Berlin for years.

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