Italy ex-PM Renzi says Saudi Arabia hub of 'new Renaissance'

Italy ex-PM Renzi says Saudi Arabia hub of 'new Renaissance'
The former Italian PM's comparison of Saudi Arabia to Florence has raised some eyebrows.
2 min read
29 January, 2021
Matteo Renzi heaped praise on Saudi Arabia and its leaders [Getty Archive]
Italy's former prime minister has hailed Saudi Arabia during a recent visit, proclaiming that the ultra-conservative kingdom could become a hub for a "new Renaissance".

Matteo Renzi, who visited Riyadh to deliver an address at the fourth edition of the Future Investment Forum, heaped praise on the kingdom and its "great" de-facto ruler.

The former prime minister and mayor of Florence hailed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MbS, as a "great" leader, while also drawing a comparison between the Gulf kingdom and his home city.

Florence, Renzi said, was the "the city of Renaissance, and Renaissance became great exactly after the plague, after pandemic". He added that "Saudi [Arabia] could be a place for a new Renaissance for the future."

Renzi, who plunged Italy into a political crisis by withdrawing his centrist Italia Viva party from the country's coalition government just days before, concluded his speech with further praise for MbS, adding that he believes that under [his] leadership, Saudi Arabia can play "a fundamental role" in the world.

Renzi's remarks on the second day of the FII drew further attention to his movements of late, having earned a reputation as a "wrecker" out to shake Italy's political establishment.

His speech drew criticism from the Italian press and human rights groups who raised concerns over Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

According to Italy's Domani newspaper, Renzi's attendance at the FII conference could land him a salary of up to $80,000 for the gig, depending on his level of participation.

Under the leadership of MbS, Saudi Arabia has attempted an ambitious restructure of its economy dubbed 'SaudiVision 2030'. The plan aims to wean the kingdom off its dependence on oil revenues, while also developing the country as a hub of foreign investment and activity.

The kingdom's economic transformation has been accompanied by liberal reforms to attract investment and tourism, including allowing women to drive and loosening male guardianship laws. 

Rights groups, however, highlight that many Saudi activists remain jailed, and have slammed Riyadh's liberal reforms and hosting of international events as a smokescreen for continued rights abuses.

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