This post is by Camryn Greabell.
The Third Future Investment Initiative (FII) is set to take place next week, October 29-31st in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The FII, also referred to as “Davos in the Desert” is an economic conference which has been occurring since 2017. The third iteration is intended to “continue building active, global networks of influential decision-makers to explore the emerging industries that will shape the global economy and investment landscape over the coming decades.” In its first years, the conference has seen the announcement or expansion of programs such as NEOM, a proposed cross-border smart city, and Vision 2030, the “pioneering vision” of Saudi Arabia which was set forth by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Despite the economic goals he set forth in Vision 2030, bin Salman is a quite controversial figure. While he has done some things which have been beneficial for Saudi Arabia, such as playing a large role in lifting the ban on women driving, he has also been the driving force behind such actions as the war in Yemen, imprisoning human rights activists and political rivals, and, perhaps the act which garnered the most attention, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi last October. Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who had been living in the US and working as a columnist for the Washington Post. On October 2nd, 2018, Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Turkey to obtain paperwork that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée. However, once inside he was killed and then dismembered. While many at the time thought that the Crown Prince may have had something to do with Khashoggi’s death, as the journalist was an outspoken critic of bin Salman, at first nothing conclusively proved that these speculations were true. Yet around six weeks after Khashoggi’s death, the CIA concluded that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Though this finding was not released until a few weeks after last year’s FII, the Trump administration boycotted the conference over the widespread beliefs that the Saudi crown was involved in some way.
However, this year, the White House will be sending representatives. Both Jared Kushner, White House Senior Advisor, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be attending the conference as representatives of the Trump administration. This sends the message that our government no longer is bothered by the fact that the Crown Prince ordered the assassination of a U.S resident and journalist who was critical of Saudi policies. President Trump’s attitude towards Saudi Arabia recently has been troubling, as when he tweeted that he was waiting for a Saudi response on how to proceed with the American military. However, the fact that he is ready to disregard a political leader murdering, albeit indirectly, a citizen who he disagreed with is a troubling precedent to set. It sends the message to bin Salman that the United States will essentially turn a blind eye if this happens again. It is actions like these that pave the way for political leaders to become dictators. Having just recently passed the one year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, the reminder of bin Salman’s actions is even more significant. When paired with things like Trump’s refusal to condemn bin Salman for his role in Khashoggi’s assassination despite the Senate passing a resolution to do just that is worrisome. It is important that the United States not try to get on the good side of potential dictators and sacrifice our morals in the process. While the FII may be an important conference for Americans to have a presence at, the fact that Trump is sending such senior members of his administration sends a message that this event is much more important to us than it should be.