What the mass slaughter of civilians and even bombing a school bus full of children in Yemen couldn't do, the murder of one of their own did: a growing list of major media companies have declared they are pulling out of a high profile investment summit in Riyadh set to start on October 23rd over the alleged Saudi state murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi "insider" critic Jamal Khashoggi.
So far the list of media sponsors declaring their withdrawal from the Saudi-hosted Future Investment Initiative (FII) event include the Financial Times, Bloomberg, CNN and CNBC, as well as president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who indicated on Friday he would not be attending, according to The Guardian.
Notably the event has been described as largely the brainchild of the kingdom's de facto ruler, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is trying to draw international investments for his much-hyped and ambitious Vision 2030 project. But as of late Friday a burgeoning list of key names who say they will shun the summit are as follows: Arianna Huffington, Patrick Soon-Shiong (LA Times owner), CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin, Bob Bakish (Viacom chief executive), Dara Khosrowshahi (Uber’s chief executive), and the Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, among others.
As of Friday World Bank President Jim Yong Kim had still been listed on the official FII website as a "confirmed speaker" — though a World Bank official said early the same day, “President Kim has previously informed the Saudi authorities that he will not be attending the Future Investment Initiative.”
The official, however, declined to indicate that it was specifically due to the Khashoggi disappearance — though as FT notes the FII summit "has suffered a number of defections after the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi." The World Bank claimed President Kim's cancellation is due to a "scheduling conflict" in what's likely a thinly veiled excuse to avoid the controversy.
Some companies that were slated to attend have indicated they are withdrawing pending the outcome of formal investigations, but others have now pulled out unconditionally.
Bloomberg is the latest media company to pull out, according to a Friday statement: "Bloomberg will no longer serve as a media partner for the Future Investment Initiative," a spokesperson said. "As we do with every major event in the region, we plan to cover any news from our regional news bureau."
Though President Trump and other Western leaders have made softball comments and issued mild criticism against Saudi Arabia in the wake of the alleged October 2nd murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul — with Trump very frankly saying that a Congressional proposal to block Saudi arms sales would be "hurting us" — it could be that a growing boycott of the FII and related projects could end up hitting Riyadh harder, as The Guardian notes:
Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 project – the brainchild of the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – is strongly dependent on overseas investment, and the apparent shunning of the prestigious FII conference will be as disturbing to Saudi policymakers as the more distant threat of a US-imposed ban on arms sales.
As some of the most visible global media companies continue to declare they're pulling out of the conference, it is entirely possible and even likely that a full-on Western boycott of the event will gain momentum.
Meanwhile, a new Politico op-ed piece aptly noted, "How tragically ironic that in his disappearance and probable death, Khashoggi may have done more to get Washington to see the troubling reality of MBS’s Saudi Arabia than he ever could have done alive and in his writing."
And then there's this bombshell which was announced Thursday:
Sir Richard Branson has halted discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund about a planned $1bn investment in Virgin’s space companies. He has also suspended his participation in two advisory boards.
Perhaps the writing is on the wall for the "reformer" prince MbS as this is surely going to hurt.
Though we should note that the continued US-Saudi coalition carpet bombing of civilian areas in Yemen is still hardly receiving mention at all.