Google has become the latest tech company to pull out of a high-profile conference in Saudi Arabia commonly referred to as Davos in the Desert. Google didn’t give a reason for the decision but other companies have pulled out while citing the 2 October disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, last seen at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Diane Greene, Google’s head of cloud computing, was supposed to attend the conference, formally titled the Future Investment Initiative, in Riyadh starting on 23 October. As Reuters notes, Google had announced an initiative to train aspiring tech workers at five “innovation hubs” throughout Saudi Arabia. Unlike other tech executives who specifically talked about the disappearance of Khashoggi as the reason for exiting the conference, Greene didn’t elaborate.
The story of Khashoggi’s disappearance keeps getting weirder and weirder. Turkish authorities were the first to claim that he was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, was killed, and was then dismembered with a bone saw before his body was smuggled out in bags. The Saudis initially denied that this happened, but without any video evidence that he ever left the consulate, they’ve seemingly painted themselves into a corner.
It was leaked to multiple news outlets yesterday that perhaps the Saudis would accept responsibility for Khashoggi’s death, while blaming “rogue actors” in the Saudi intelligence service. But that hasn’t yet come to pass. It’s believed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) directly ordered the execution of Khashoggi over his criticism of the Saudi regime, according to US intelligence intercepts.
Saudi Arabia announced over the weekend that anyone spreading “fake news” online would face up to 5 years in prison and heavy fines. The kingdom didn’t mention Khashoggi specifically, but they didn’t need to. Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia is panicking as it becomes increasingly likely that the country will face severe economic consequences for the suspected death of Khashoggi—through no help of US president Donald Trump, mind you. The Trump regime is still firmly behind Saudi Arabia, thanks largely to the interests of American military contractors.
“I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do,” Trump said on American current affairs programme 60 Minutes this past Sunday. “I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing.” [Reuters]