It turns out that Saudi Arabia was hosting a big Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh on October 23 and a lot of big name western media had been co-sponsoring it. The fact that that nation has been bombing the hell out of Yemen with US-made weapons, causing immense death and suffering to one of the poorest countries in the world, did not faze them in the least. It took the disappearance and possible murder of a journalist who wrote for the Washington Post to cause some of the media to withdraw their sponsorship.
The Financial Times, Bloomberg, CNN and CNBC have withdrawn as media sponsors.
The World Bank said it had previously informed the Saudi authorities that its president, Jim Yong Kim, would not be attending the Future Investment Initiative.
The New York Times withdrew its sponsorship of the event on Wednesday, starting a domino effect of withdrawals around the globe. In a short statement, the Financial Times’ chief communications officer, Fiona McDonnell, said the newspaper would not be a partner of the conference while Khashoggi’s disappearance remained unexplained.
Media figures to pull out of the conference include Arianna Huffington, who runs the health firm Thrive Global, Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the LA Times, and the CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin. The Viacom chief executive, Bob Bakish, and Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, have also confirmed they will not attend.
Sir Richard Branson has halted discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund about a planned $1bn (£760m) investment in Virgin’s space companies. He has also suspended his participation in two advisory boards.
Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, is listed as a speaker at the conference. Jihad Azour, head of the IMF’s Middle East department, would not say if she would attend. “Like most of the people here and everywhere, we are waiting to have more information on this recent development,” Azour said.
The Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, has withdrawn from the FII. An editorial in the latest issue contained a rebuke to Bin Salman, stating: “His brutish handling of even mild critics is overshadowing more admirable policies, which include curbing the religious police, letting women drive and encouraging them to work.
“As his regime starts to resemble an Arab nationalist dictatorship – socially liberal but centralised, paranoid and built on fear – his promise of a new, tolerant Saudi Arabia is receding.”
‘Socially liberal’? Saudi Arabia?. Letting women drive (while ‘disappearing’ the activists who pushed for it) and opening a few cinemas does not make a country socially liberal. Saudi Arabia remains one of the most brutal and repressive and murderous regimes on the planet. Such statements underscore how desperate the west is to find good things to say about it.
So why has Khashoggi’s disappearance raised so much dust? After all, the Saudis are notorious for their repression of journalists, among other groups. We can trust the odious Thomas Friedman to blurt out the ugly truth, that they only care about Khashoggi because he worked for a major US newspaper and was a friend fo Friedman’s
If Jamal has been abducted or murdered by agents of the Saudi government, it will be a disaster for M.B.S. and a tragedy for Saudi Arabia and all the Arab Gulf countries. It would be an unfathomable violation of norms of human decency, worse not in numbers but in principle than even the Yemen war.
And the Saudi-United Arab Emirates war in Yemen has been so badly botched that the Saudis have been accused of possible war crimes, even though Iran and the Houthi rebels had also contributed mightily to Yemen’s destruction.
Got it? The death of thousands of Yemenis and the destruction of their country are not war crimes in Friedman’s eyes that merit censure. It is how they treat people whom he knows personally that matters.
The war in Yemen was not “botched”, a phrasing which suggests a miscalculation. It is a deliberate murderous war, and no attempt by Friedman to shift the blame to others and to use the modified ‘possible’ for the war crimes can erase that fact.