In April 2016, Barack Obama landed in Saudi Arabia for his final visit to the kingdom as president of the United States. Unlike on his previous visits and those of other heads of state, Obama’s arrival was not broadcast live on Saudi state television with its usual fanfare. Rather than the Saudi king greeting Obama at the airport, it was the governor of Riyadh. The Saudis were seemingly going out of their way to snub Obama as he entered his final months in office. They were angry at the administration’s policies in the Middle East, including a perceived shift toward Iran and Obama’s refusal to intervene in the Syrian war.
A year later, the House of Saud is preparing this weekend to host President Donald Trump as he makes Riyadh the first stop on his maiden overseas trip. For Trump, the Saudis have moved to the other extreme. After the White House announced that the kingdom would be the initial stop on Trump’s trip, the Saudi daily Okaz published a graphic of every U.S. president's first foreign journey going back to Teddy Roosevelt. (Most modern presidents have visited Canada or Mexico on their first overseas trip.) The paper also ran a triumphant front-page headline, “Saudi First,” that listed 10 reasons why Trump chose the kingdom as his first foreign destination. In the lead-up to Trump’s two-day visit, they’ve organized a grand reception for a leader who savors ostentatious displays of wealth and power. The streets of Riyadh are filled with Saudi and American flags, and billboards featuring Trump and Saudi King Salman with the slogan “Together we prevail.” The local press is packed with effusive coverage. An official Saudi website for Trump’s visit features an online clock counting down the hours and minutes to the big day, under the slogan “Historic summit. Brighter future.” The Saudis are also promoting branded hashtags, in English and Arabic, for #RiyadhSummit.