Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is facing a backlash over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from business and media previously supportive of his reform drive, with partnerships at risk and big names boycotting a major conference this month.
The crown prince, the son of King Salman, has spearheaded an ambitious programme known as Vision 2030, aiming to make the oil-rich conservative kingdom a hub for global innovation and better able to respond to the demands of its increasingly youthful population.
Despite enduring criticism of Saudi’s human rights record and its role in the war in Yemen, business chiefs, investors and prominent media figures have been impressed by the crown prince’s rhetoric and backed his vision of a new Saudi Arabia.
The showcase of this international support was set to be on October 23-25 at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, a lavish conference to be attended by top foreign business leaders and dubbed the “Davos in the Desert” after the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort.
But the disappearance of Khashoggi — who has not been seen since he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 — has given chills even to those who strongly supported Mohammed bin Salman’s plans.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi — a contributor to the Washington Post who has on occasion penned articles critical of Mohammed bin Salman — was killed inside the consulate. Saudi Arabia has strongly denied this but has failed to explain the journalist’s fate. AFP