Economist editor latest withdrawal from Saudi 'Davos-in-the-desert' business summit

Economist editor latest withdrawal from Saudi 'Davos-in-the-desert' business summit
Zanny Minton Beddoes is the latest high-profile figure to pull out from Riyadh's Future Investment Initiative.
3 min read
11 October, 2018
Khashoggi's 'murder' has sparked global outrage [AFP]
The Economist's editor-in-chief is the latest big name to pull out from Saudi Arabia's much-lauded "Davos-in-the-desert" business summit.

Zanny Minton Beddoes withdrew as pressure mounted on sponsors and participants not to endorse the Saudi regime following the disappearance and alleged state murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Murdering a critic on foreign soil would be an escalation of a dismal trend," read an editorial posted by The Economist on Thursday.

"Unlike past Saudi royals, who allowed some debate and often sought to mediate between competing interests, Prince Muhammad rules as if only he has the answers."

New York Times, whose columnists have acted as cheerleaders for the regime, invariably lauding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a "reformist", had pulled out of the Riyadh conference on Wednesday night after reports that Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post writer, had been killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Future Investment Initiative (FII) is designed by Saudi Arabia to promote investment in its further economic development, and is scheduled between October 23 to 25.

It had the backing of global-multi-national organisations and the support of a range of media outlets, including The New York Times, which in recent months has been lambasted for its "whitewashing" of the Saudi regime.

But the pages of the NYT have seen criticism of Saudi Arabia in the past few days, with a series of op-eds  demanding Riyadh "answer for Jamal Khashoggi" and asserting bin Salman's regime is in danger if it is proven that Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudi government.

The NYT's withdrawal from the conference on Wednesday left many speculating who would be next to drop out as the Saudi regime continued to deal with global outrage amid Khashoggi's disappearance.

Journalism is not a crime

But while it has lost media allies, Saudi Arabia has more crucially faced a backlash in Washington.

"I am concerned. I don't like hearing about it. Hopefully that will sort itself out," US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday when asked about Khashoggi's disappearance. 

"Right now, nobody knows anything about it. There are some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it."

Vice-President Mike Pence has also spoken out over the saga, saying he was "deeply troubled" about reports of Khashoggi's fate.

Ernest Moniz, the US energy secretary under President Barack Obama, announced on Wednesday night that he was suspending his work on the board of NEOM - A planned Saudi mega-city project.

"Given current events, I am suspending my participation on the NEOM board," said a statement from Moniz, who had been working on efforts to minimise environmental impacts of the $500 billion business and industrial city-building project at the heart of the kingdom's plan for "a modern, dynamic Saudi Arabia".

In March, bin Salman went on a high-profile tour of the US.

Bin Salman was warmly welcomed not only in the White House but also among influential American business and technology figures such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, discussing investment opportunities for the kingdom's Vision 2030 programme.

During his visit, prominent US figures and media outlets praised the young leader for his reforms in the kingdom, turning a blind eye to the rampant human rights violations in the country.