Crown Prince “All Smiles” As Saudis Sign $50 Billion In Deals At “Davos In The Desert”


Even as lawmakers from the US, to Germany and Canada have weighed some form of economic punishment against Saudi Arabia – be it sanctions, an arms sale prohibition, or both – over the state’s involvement in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was reportedly “all smiles” during the opening day of his second annual Future Investment Initiative, according to a Bloomberg report.

The crown prince made his unexpected appearance toward the end of the day, drawing a crowd as people craned to catch a glimpse or take a photo. He sat next to King Abdullah of Jordan and they left together soon after, followed by onlookers and without the prince commenting publicly.

Prince Mohammed is due to speak on Wednesday, organizers later announced. It was not clear if he would respond to Erdogan’s accusations, which came closer than ever to laying the blame for Khashoggi’s death at the ambitious young leader’s feet.

And why wouldn’t he be? Just over three weeks after Khashoggi’s killing and purported dismemberment, calls for the Crown Prince’s ouster have already subsided. Any hope that the royal family would act to oust him as the kingdom’s de facto ruler disappeared when his father, King Salman, announced that MbS would be charged with leading a commission to oversee the restructuring of the Saudi intelligence service. And even as CEOs from Wall Street, Silicon Valley and global industrial giants decided to skip MbS’s “Davos in the Desert”, their top dealmakers, tucked away from the public glare, were there to represent in their stead and keep the money flowing. Adding to the irony, MbS received a standing ovation from a crowd of 3,000 dignitaries and investors, including hundreds of Saudi citizens.

At least the irony that MbS’s grandiose display of Saudi power and influence was being held in the same hotel – the Riyadh Ritz Carlton where he had detained dozens of Saudi businessmen and royal family members in what was widely seen as a blatant shakedown late last year (detainees were beaten, tortured and forced to surrender assets to the Saudi crown that reportedly totaled some $100 billion) was not lost on the international press.

And while several Saudi officials, including the country’s oil minister and a powerful female tycoon, decried the murder as “unjustifiable” and “alien to our culture”, their criticisms included no reference to what or who might have been responsible, according to Reuters.

Indeed, while high-profile withdrawals from Softbank’s Masayoshi Son and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hurt the conference’s image, the show went on – and while day one was somewhat more subdued than last year – there were no grandiose revelations about the kingdom’s plans to build a high-tech supercity in the desert, or announcements about a future public offering of Saudi Aramco shares (since put on hold). And there were no Andrew Ross Sorkins, and no talking robots.


But there were deals. $50 billion worth, according to the latest “official” figure offered by the Saudis.

All told, Aramco inked deals worth some $34 billion with firms from eight countries including the US, while Aramco CEO Amir Nasser told CNN that $16 billion in deals had been reached involving other sectors of the Saudi economy.

State oil company Aramco announced Tuesday that it had signed 15 memorandums of understanding worth $34 billion with firms from eight countries, including the United States, at the Future Investment Initiative.

Aramco CEO Amir Nasser told CNN Business’ Emerging Markets Editor John Defterios that $16 billion worth of deals had been done in other sectors of the Saudi economy.

Among the companies partnering with Aramco are US oil field service firms Halliburton (HAL), Schlumberger (SLB) and Baker Hughes (BHGE). US conglomerate Air Products (APD) will work on a gas power project.

France’s Total (TOT) has agreed to begin engineering studies on building a petrochemical complex, as well as partner with Saudi Aramco on a retail gas station network. Hyundai Heavy Industries, from South Korea, will develop a maritime facility.

The remaining companies to sign deals with Aramco are based in the United Arab Emirates, Japan, India and China.

As the international press has repeatedly pointed out during the days and weeks since Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, industries from Silicon Valley to Wall Street and beyond rely on Saudi money. And the kingdom remains the world’s largest oil exporter.

As CNN put it…

While other deals may yet be inked at the “Davos in the desert” conference, the agreements announced by Aramco underscore the continued importance of the massive oil company to the kingdom’s economy.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has poured Saudi money into domestic tourism projects and global tech companies as part of an effort to diversify the economy.

It’s this river of capital that, more than anything else, should insulate MbS from any substantial blowback over the Khashoggi affair, just as it did when he imprisoned rival members of the royal family and women’s rights activists, or when he effectively kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon, or as Saudi Arabia continues to wage a war of aggression against innocent civilians in Yemen, much to the international community’s bizarre silence.

And since Turkish President Erdogan’s much-hyped public address earlier Tuesday just rehashed details that he had already leaked to the press, MbS has every reason to smile. 

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