From Nawaz Sharif to Gotabaya Rajapaksa: Why Saudi Arabia is a safe haven for ousted leaders

After Maldives and Singapore, former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa now seems to be headed for Saudi Arabia. It will be a major co...

After Maldives and Singapore, former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa now seems to be headed for Saudi Arabia.

It will be a major contrast for him. From Sri Lanka's exotic beaches have attracted international tourists to the conservative Gulf kingdom.

Though it may look like an unlikely destination for ousted and exiled leaders, Saudi Arabia has, in fact, hosted many of them. Popular guests include former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Exiled & ousted leaders hosted by Saudi Arabia

Former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was forced to flee after his country's capital Kampala fell to Tanzanian troops in 1979.

He first went to Libya but in 1980 shifted to Saudi Arabia, where he stayed until his death in 2003.

To date, Amin is considered one of the world's most brutal dictators. Nearly 500,000 people were killed under his regime which was marred by ethnic persecution and extrajudicial killings.

In 1972, he ordered the expulsion of Europeans and Asians mostly Indians from Uganda.

Despite the human rights abuses under his rule, Amin found sanctuary in authoritarian Saudi Arabia where lived in comfort though he was rarely seen in public.

After the 1999 military coup, then-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif fled to Saudi Arabia where he stayed at a residence managed by the government of the Gulf kingdom.

As anti-government protests began spreading across Saudi Arabia's neighbourhood in 2010s as the Arab Spring, the oil-rich nation hosted one more leader who fell from grace.

In 2011, Tunisian dictator Ben Ali and his family found a safe haven in Saudi Arabia's Jeddah.

The country's favours on rulers of neighbouring countries continued. In 2017, it was reported that former Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi had been living in Saudi Arabia albeit under house arrest.

The question is why Saudi Arabia offers sanctuary to these ousted leaders? The answer varies in each case.

One thing common among all the leaders mentioned above except for Rajapaksa is that they were Sunni Muslims.

The Sunni-dominated gulf kingdom is believed to favour Muslim rulers belonging to that sect of Islam.

Under Amin's rule, Uganda's relations with several nations including India, Israel and the UK hit an all-time low. But he had not done anything in particular to harm Saudi interests.

As for Nawaz Sharif, Riyadh and Islamabad enjoyed close relations during his tenure as the PM. A businessman himself, Sharif made several investments in Saudi Arabia.

Daunted by popular uprisings in its backyard, Saudi Arabia probably sympathised with Tunisia's Ben Ali who was ousted by protesters.

In case the of Yemen's Hadi, it was about tackling arch rival Iran. Hadi's government was toppled by Houthi rebels backed by Shia-dominated Iran.

Other prominent reasons why Saudi which has been ruled a single family accepts infamous leaders is because of lack of backlash from the public and Opposition.

In Maldives, both the public and the Opposition parties protested against the government's decision to allow entry to Rajapaksa.

Almost a day later, Rajapaksa fled to Singapore which has also been trying to distance itself from the disgraced Sri Lankan leader saying that he has not been granted asylum.

What's interesting is why if at all, Saudi Arabia has become a safe haven for Rajapaksa.

He belongs to a Buddhist family and even if he has money to offer, the oil-rich nation doesn't seem to be much in need of some.

With Nawaz Sharif, Saudis had hopes that he might return to power in Pakistan and he eventually did.

But the kind of disgraceful exit Rajapaksa had, it is highly unlikely that he will ever come back to Sri Lanka.

In the final stages of his attempt to flee, airport authorities refused to approve his documents in the VIP queue. He was instead asked to take the normal route where he was at the risk of facing angry passengers.

Saudi Arabia may not see any benefits in hosting Rajapaksa but it also does not see any harm.

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India World News: From Nawaz Sharif to Gotabaya Rajapaksa: Why Saudi Arabia is a safe haven for ousted leaders
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