Khashoggi’s Murder Casts a Shadow Over the Kingdom

News Commentary — Oct 23, 2018

It was supposed to showcase an open and more diversified Saudi Arabia. However, what was billed as the kingdom’s ‘Davos in the Desert’ is turning into an embarrassment in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
The kingdom has faced public rebukes from business and political leaders amid mounting global outrage over the murder of the dissident journalist inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
The extent of the backlash is now becoming painfully evident at the Riyadh investment forum.
The event had been meant to showcase Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and encourage investment from global market leaders. However, Khashoggi’s murder has cast a shadow over the proceedings.
Many of the top global CEOs and finance officials who were due to participate have now withdrawn.
The latest to drop out is Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser.
“Siemens has been a reliable partner to Saudi Arabia for decades … But for now, the truth must be found and justice must be served,” Kaeser said in a statement Monday.
He joins a string of other A-list executives who have already pulled out. These include JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, HSBC CEO John Flint, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde are also reportedly skipping the event.
Crown Prince Mohammed was due to attend the conference on Tuesday but if he does so he will be mixing with a far less illustrious crowd of businessmen and investors than he did a year ago. Then, when he unveiled ambitious new plans at the Kingdom’s last Future Investment Initiative conference, Prince Mohammed was well received.
That may have changed. According to Garbis Iradian, the chief economist for Middle East and North Africa at the Institute of International Finance, potential investors may now pause before committing themselves.
“The Khashoggi story has damaged the reputation of the kingdom and has increased political uncertainty,” he says. “[Businesses] may postpone or reduce doing business dealings in the kingdom and adopt a wait and see attitude,” he added.