Saudi Arabia is hosting a conference at the end of October that it’s billing as a blueprint for the 22nd century. The Future Investment Initiative conference, being called “Davos in the Desert,” is hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Mohammad also might’ve been responsible for the assassination of a Washington Post journalist.
Journalists and businesses alike have decided to boycott the conference, withdrawing their support for Mohammad’s project. The New York Times, CNN, CNBC, Huffpost founder Ariana Huffington, The Financial Times, and The Economist joined the CEOs of Uber, Hyperloop One, Viacom, the World Bank and venture capitalist Steve Case in either outright refusal to attend or walking back previous commitments to attend.
But as big a story, if not bigger, is the people who are attending despite the death of reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
Jamie Dimon (CEO, JPMorgan Chase), John M. Flint (Executive Director, HSBC), Larry Fink (CEO, BlackRock), Christine Lagarde (International Monetary Fund President), former General David Petraeus (Chairman, KKR), Stephen Schwarzman (CEO, Blackstone) and Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of Treasury) are all still scheduled speakers.
Mnuchin’s participation in the conference is not surprising. The White House has not condemned Saudi Arabia’s actions related to Khashoggi’s death. In fact, Trump is still carrying out a planned arms sale to the regime.
“I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea,” said billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic have suspended talks with Saudi Arabia.
“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government.”
But Khashoggi’s death isn’t the only issue of concern. The FII conference is being held at the same Ritz-Carlton hotel Mohammad used as a makeshift prison last year when he rounded up hundreds of political and business elites on thin corruption charges, who were reportedly threatened and beaten.
This crackdown extended to human rights activists, and particularly women’s rights activists as well. When Canada chastised Saudi Arabia for this behavior, Mohammed’s country responded with the dismissal of Canada’s ambassador.
As an increasing number of parties to the FII summit withdraw their participation in light of Saudi Arabia’s literal attack on journalism, how the Crown Prince will react this time is yet to be seen.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.