WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's visit in the Middle East continues today. But tomorrow the president's most controversial stop will take place as he visits Saudi Arabia.
So why is this presidential visit attracting so much criticism?
UNDERSTANDING THE CONFLICT
Street signs may not often come to mind when it comes to understanding international disagreements. However, the recent renaming of a street in Washington to "Jamal Khashoggi Way" perhaps could describe the controversy well.
Washington D.C. leaders named the street in front of the Saudi Embassy after the slain Washington Post columnist who wrote critically of Saudi Arabia's government. He was murdered in 2018.
Even though Saudi Arabia denies ordering the killing, last year, a U.S. intelligence assessment concluded the country's leaders were directly involved.
Unique street signs in front of embassies are just one example of how complicated the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia has become and how controversial President Biden's visit there is to so many.
"I feel, to be honest, betrayed, Abdullah Alaoudh said during a recent interview.
Alaoudh is the research director at DAWN, which stands for Democracy for the Arab World Now. It's an organization that was founded by Jamal Khashoggi before he died.
"Jamal Khashoggi was my friend," Alaoudh said.
Alaoudh is better known now as one of the biggest critics of the Saudi government in the United States. He was born in Saudi Arabia and his father is currently imprisoned there for speaking out on Twitter.
Alaoudh says he feels betrayed by the presidential visit because President Biden campaigned on making the kingdom of Saudi Arabia a quote "pariah" for human rights violations, which include public executions and little to no free speech.
He believes a presidential visit is the exact opposite of that, although he does hope President Biden accomplishes more with the visit than just a conversation about gas prices.
"At least there should be clear human rights concessions by the Saudi government," Alaoudh said. President Biden, for his part, knows his visit is controversial.
It's why he wrote a Washington Post column and said, "I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia."
President Biden went on to say: "As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure," the president said. "To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them," he said.
President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended President Biden's visit in a recent briefing with the press corps.
“We have to work on increasing the prospect for peace in the region,” Sullivan said.
Other foreign policy experts have said the U.S. must ensure Saudi Arabia doesn't become too close with China or Russia, which could destabilize the Middle East long-term.
As for Alaoudh, who has faced many threats for his activism, he says, at the very least, he hopes more people now understand just how controversial Saudi Arabia is and why President Biden's visit is no ordinary trip.
"Those that killed our founder and friend Jamal Khashoggi and wanted to silence him will never prevail," Alaoudh said.