Saudi Arabia’s triumphant week reclaims the West’s embrace

Sep 24, 2022, 3:19 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2022, 3:26 pm
Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud addresses the 77th session of the...

Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

              Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
            
              Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
            
              Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
            
              Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, speaks at an event organized by the fund and the Future Investment Initiative Institute in New York on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Saudi Arabia appears to be leaving behind the stream of negative coverage that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi elicited since 2018. The kingdom is once again enthusiastically welcomed back into polite and powerful society and it is no longer as frowned upon to seek Saudi investments or accept their favor. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
            
              Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, speaks at an event organized by the fund and the Future Investment Initiative Institute in New York on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Saudi Arabia appears to be leaving behind the stream of negative coverage that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi elicited since 2018. The kingdom is once again enthusiastically welcomed back into polite and powerful society and it is no longer as frowned upon to seek Saudi investments or accept their favor. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)

NEW YORK (AP) — Saudi Arabia appears to be leaving behind the stream of negative coverage that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi elicited since 2018. The kingdom is once again being enthusiastically welcomed back into polite and powerful society, and it is no longer as frowned upon to seek Saudi investments or accept their favor.

Saudi Arabia’s busy week of triumphs included brokering a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia, holding a highbrow summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, marking the country’s national day with pomp and pageantry, hosting the German chancellor and discussing energy supply with top White House officials.

The kingdom is able to draw focus back to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious rebranding of Saudi Arabia and his goals to build both the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and pull the kingdom up from the G-20 to the more exclusive G-7 nations representing the biggest economies.

It’s a mission that’s often characterized as waking up a sleeping giant. Except it’s happening even as human rights reforms remain off the agenda.

As the crown prince embarks on sensitive social and economic reforms, he’s simultaneously overseen a far-reaching crackdown on dissent that his supporters say is necessary to ensure stability during this period. Among those detained or banned from leaving the country are women’s rights activists, moderate preachers, conservative clerics, economists and progressive writers. Even top princes and Saudi billionaires have not been spared. Many were rounded up and held in the capital’s Ritz-Carlton in a purported anti-corruption sweep that netted over a $100 billion in assets.

The clampdown, however, drew its strongest international rebuke following the killing of Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul four years ago.

And just last month, staggeringly long prison terms were handed down against two women for their Twitter and social media activity. A Saudi court sentenced a woman to 45 years in prison in August for allegedly damaging the country through her social media activity. It came on the heels of a 34-year-long prison sentence for another Saudi woman convicted of spreading “rumors” and retweeting dissidents. Both women were handed down the unusually long sentences on appeal.

The Associated Press asked Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Farhan bin Faisal about these sentences. “Those cases are still in process. They are not yet at the final appeal,” he said, adding that the cases lie with the judiciary, which he said operates independently. He spoke at the exclusive Yale Club during an event in New York this week. He would not discuss the cases further.

Saudi Arabia’s strength lies not only in its top position as the world’s biggest oil exporter, but also as the home of Islam’s holiest site and its birthplace.

The prince’s efforts to shed the yoke of decades of ultraconservative Wahhabi control over every aspect of life are popular among young Saudis. From movie theaters and concerts, to women driving and curtailing the morality’s police’s authority, the face of Saudi Arabia is changing. The latter stands in stark contrast to the protests in rival Iran’s cities this week over the death of a woman in the custody of that country’s morality police.

At the other end of these changes is a reorienting of Saudi Arabia’s identity from a chiefly religious focus to one of cultural and national pride.

At a swanky daylong forum this week at one of New York’s premier Upper East Side addresses, the kingdom’s $620 billion wealth fund drew some of the city’s Who’s Who to mingle and network on the sidelines of the United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders. While the kingdom never stopped drawing investors or forging partnerships in the years since Khashoggi’s death, or amid its ongoing war in Yemen, those ties were less forward-facing among U.S. elites.

The Public Investment Fund has significant stakes in Uber, Lucid Motors, the cruise operator Carnival, Live Nation, Nintendo, Microsoft and a range of other companies. The aim of these investments is to grow Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth and use it to establish world-class tourism, entertainment and luxury industries in the country. In doing so, the kingdom is creating a resilient economy as the world looks to a future powered by green energy rather than fossil fuels.

The PIF’s biggest undertaking is Neom, a futuristic megaproject along the kingdom’s northwestern Red Sea coast that envisions flying cars and a 105 mile-long (170 kilometer) zero carbon emissions city that’s entirely enclosed and powered by Artificial Intelligence.

The crown prince oversees the PIF, but the man who runs its day-to-day investments is Yasir al-Rumayyan. He spoke at the so-called “Priority Summit” to a monied elite that included Jared Kushner, a former White House advisor and Donald Trump’s son-in-law. Kushner recently secured a $2 billion investment from the PIF to jump start his new private equity firm.

The fund is key to the 37-year-old prince’s race against time to create at least 1.8 million jobs for young Saudis coming of age and entering the workforce.

“It’s not only the figures that we are looking at, but the quality of these jobs, the quality of our offering to our society — and at the same time, making money while we’re doing it,” al-Rumayyan said.

The PIF’s wealth is fueled by the kingdom’s oil earnings. Al-Rumayyan is also chairman of Saudi Aramco. The state-owned oil and gas company had a record second-quarter this year with profits that topped $48 billion — a figure more than Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Meta and Amazon’s same-quarter earnings combined.

The summit, organized by the PIF’s Future Investment Initiative Institute that puts on the annual “Davos in the Desert” in Riyadh, drew more than just people seeking opportunities and a morsel of Saudi Arabia’s offerings. It also attracted intellectuals and artists — the kind of soft power that money can’t always buy.

Despite a shift in tone in the West, the shadow of Khashoggi’s killing still looms.

The crown prince was notably absent from Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, which drew royals from around the globe to London this month. Sources close to Prince Mohammed said he would not attend the funeral, the optics of which would have been a distraction. But they did say he would fly to London to offer condolences to the new King Charles III. That never transpired.

And after the crown prince helped negotiate the prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, a move that drew international praise, the headline of the New York Post read: “White House thanks killer crown prince.”

Fernando Javier Sulichin, an Argentine film producer who’s collaborated on projects with Oliver Stone, said he was drawn to the PIF’s event because he wanted to hear new ideas and brainstorm.

“Instead of being cynical and just reading the newspapers, it’s like, what’s going on in the world?,” he said, adding that none of the sessions and discussions “are edited by any editorial board.” He likened it to sourcing water from the river rather than the tap.

No longer pulled by the tide, the kingdom is riding its own wave.

___

This story was first published on Sept. 24, 2022. It was updated on Sept. 26, 2022, to correct the name of the institute that organized the “Priority Summit.” It is the Future Investment Initiative Institute, not the Foreign Investment Initiative Institute.

___

Aya Batrawy, an AP journalist based in Dubai, is on assignment covering the U.N. General Assembly. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ayaelb and for more AP coverage of the U.N. General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Nancy Faeser, Federal Minister of the Interior and Home Affairs talks to members of the press in Em...
Associated Press

German government seeks to ease rules for naturalization

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s socially liberal government is moving ahead with plans to ease the rules for obtaining citizenship in the European Union’s most populous country, a drive that is being assailed by the conservative opposition. Chancellor OIaf Scholz said in a video message Saturday that Germany has long since become “the country of hope” […]
1 day ago
Lilia Kristenko, 38, cries as city responders collect the dead body of her mother Natalia Kristenko...
Associated Press

Ukraine works to restore water, power after Russian strikes

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities endeavored Saturday to restore electricity and water services after recent pummeling by Russian military strikes that vastly damaged infrastructure, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying millions have seen their power restored since blackouts swept the war-battered country days earlier. Skirmishes continued in the east and residents from the southern city […]
1 day ago
FILE - Palestinian soccer fans wave Qatari and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of ...
Associated Press

Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia’s Salem Aldawsari fired a ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a World Cup win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. Such Arab unity is hard to come by and […]
1 day ago
FILE - MGM Grand Macau casino resort is closed in Macao on July 11, 2022. Macao has tentatively ren...
Associated Press

Macao awards casino licenses to MGM, Sands, Wynn, 3 others

BEIJING (AP) — Macao has tentatively renewed the casino licenses of MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and three Chinese rivals after they promised to help diversify its economy by investing in non-gambling attractions, the government said Saturday. The announcement is positive news for owners who have invested billions of dollars to build the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Local authorities inaugurate the Christmas lighting in the streets of Vigo, Spain, Nov. 19, ...
Associated Press

Sober or bright? Europe faces holidays during energy crunch

VERONA, Italy (AP) — Early season merrymakers sipping mulled wine and shopping for holiday decorations packed the Verona Christmas market for its inaugural weekend. But beyond the wooden market stalls, the Italian city still has not decked out its granite-clad pedestrian streets with twinkling holiday lights as officials debate how bright to make the season […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Today in History: November 26, the NHL is founded

Today in History Today is Saturday, Nov. 26, the 330th day of 2022. There are 35 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Nov. 26, 1950, China entered the Korean War, launching a counteroffensive against soldiers from the United Nations, the U.S. and South Korea. On this date: In 1825, the first […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
Saudi Arabia’s triumphant week reclaims the West’s embrace