No one could have predicted this. Only two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was preparing to host foreign investors at a lavish event being described as “Davos in the desert.”
Here, MBS — as he is colloquially known — would show off his Vision 2030 plan for the kingdom and present to the world his future for a modern Saudi Arabia and charm international investors to back his plans.
What a difference the alleged murder and dismemberment of a Saudi critic at the country’s consulate in Istanbul makes.
Bin Salman’s conference, a staged event designed to present a transformed Saudi Arabia, is looking likely to be a significantly less impressive affair, as investors and business leaders are dropping out in horror at the events of the past week.
Has bin Salman badly misjudged the extent to which the world is willing to isolate him?
UK Foreign Scretary Jeremy Hunt says countries can only be allies based on shared values. That is certainly going to be the view of most European nations.
But under President Trump, the Saudis have enjoyed an unprecedentedly close relationship with the US administration — in particular, MBS, the King’s son, has forged a uniquely close bond with Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner.
And so far, criticism from the White House has been muted, with Trump, despite strong bipartisan domestic pushback, giving the clear indication that business as usual will continue — even saying he wants to move forward with a major arms deal with the kingdom worth over $100 billion.
But is friendship with America going to be enough to save bin Salman from wrecking his image overseas?
The Khashoggi drama is only the latest incident that has given international observers reason to question the stability of the Crown Prince — whose credentials as a reformer were initially applauded overseas and for some time obscured his growing brutality.
To name a few: there was the spat with Canada, which saw the Saudis recall all of its diplomatic staff.
That was prompted by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticizing Saudi for arresting a women’s rights activist — bizarre in itself, as it came shortly after…