In early 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took a sweeping tour of the U.S. as part of a strategy to rebrand Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy as a modernising force and pull off his “Vision 2030” plan – hobnobbing with a list of corporate execs and politicians that reads like a who’s who list of the U.S. elite. The trip was so heavily promoted by the Saudis that 200,000 copies of a suspiciously pro-prince magazine hit U.S. newsstands.
“Why would American Media, best-known for publishing salacious stories of sex and scandal, sink money into printing 200,000 copies of a magazine with a grinning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman splashed across the cover?” https://t.co/5uw05SILSu pic.twitter.com/H4YzbGenXe
– Henry Rome (@hrome2) February 8, 2019
Of course, bin Salman and the brutal monarchy that rules Saudi Arabia were never modernisers. The crown prince’s laundry list of human rights abuses and atrocities include crackdowns on dissent, a brutal military intervention in Yemen, and the murder of a dissident Saudi journalist in exile, Jamal Khashoggi. More recently, United Nations investigators accused bin Salman of personally sending a video file infected with phone-hijacking malware to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos over WhatsApp in May 2018, which could explain how the National Enquirer came in possession of embarrassing sexts and dick pics around the time of Bezos’s divorce last year.
Bezos was one of the individuals that bin Salman met with during his trip to the U.S., and at the time, Amazon was considering investments in Saudi Arabia. Those plans went south after the Khashoggi murder, but a quick scan of the crown prince’s 2018 itinerary reveals others corporate leaders and politicians eager to get in his good graces.
These people may want to have their phones examined.
According to the New York Times, the crown prince started off with a meeting in D.C. with Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner (the latter of whom may have real reason to worry due to his WhatsApp conversations with bin Salman). Politicians who met with him include Vice President Mike Pence, then-International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the Guardian reported. He also met with former Senator John Kerry and former President Bill Clinton, as well as the two former President Bushes.
– SPAENG (@Spa_Eng) March 21, 2018
While touting the importance of investment in Saudi Arabian projects including Neom, bin Salman’s plans for some kind of wonder city, the crown prince met with 40 U.S. business leaders. He also met with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a 2020 presidential candidate, in New York.
– SPAENG (@Spa_Eng) March 28, 2018
One-on-one meetings included hanging out with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the Seattle wing of the crown prince’s trip, as well as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. That appears to be when he met Bezos, according to a report in the Puget Sound Business Journal, and toured a Boeing facility in relation to a joint venture partnership with Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI). That deal was intended to increase the kingdom’s domestic military capacity.
– واس الأخبار الملكية (@spagov) March 31, 2018
HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman met with Microsoft CEO @satyanadella to discuss cooperation in the Kingdom’s digital transformation and innovation based economy in line with Vision 2030. #CrownPrinceinSeattle pic.twitter.com/55mTuS9las
– Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) March 31, 2018
In Los Angeles, the crown prince met with News Corp CEO and right-wing media titan Rupert Murdoch, as well as bevy of prominent Hollywood personalities including Disney CEO Bob Iger, Universal film chairman Jeff Shell, Fox executive Peter Rice and film studio chief Stacey Snider, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Also present were Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Nat Geo CEO Courtney Monroe, filmmakers James Cameron and Ridley Scott, and actors Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
During another leg of his trip in San Francisco, bin Salman met with Apple CEO Tim Cook as well as chief operating officer Jeff Williams, head of environment, policy, and social initiatives Lisa Jackson, and former retail chief Angela Ahrendts.
But to be fair, he also met Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as well as current CEO Sundar Pichai. Google signed a cloud computing contract with Saudi officials at the time, Bloomberg reported.
HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visited headquarters of @google with Larry Page, Sergey Brin and @sundarpichai. HRH discussed opportunities for partnerships on cloud computing, the Kingdom’s digital transformation, research and cyber security. #CrownPrinceinSF pic.twitter.com/wbDmstJDL3
– Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) April 6, 2018
– وزارة الخارجية 🇸🇦 (@KSAMOFA) April 7, 2018
Somewhere around that time, bin Salman also visited ominous data analytics firm Palantir and met with its founder, venture capitalist Peter Thiel. (Thiel funded a lawsuit by Hulk Hogan that bankrupted Gizmodo US’s previous owner, Gawker Media.) According to Arabian Business, he also visited three of Thiel’s investment companies: Clarium Capital, Valar Ventures, and Founders Fund.
He also met prominent venture capitalists, including Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Marc Andreessen, Y Combinator chairman Sam Altman, and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, according to Business Insider. Photos and the New York Times show that LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman was also present.
Finally, bin Salman also met with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz.
During an earlier visit to the states in June 2016, bin Salman met with President Barack Obama before he traveled to San Francisco. At that time the crown prince visited Facebook and met CEO Mark Zuckerberg, where he apparently donned augmented reality goggles, as well as Nadella.
At that time, the crown prince also met with Khan Academy CEO Salman Khan and then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, with whom he discussed the billions of investment Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has poured into the ride-sharing company. (Current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi felt compelled to refer to the Khashoggi murder as a “mistake” in November 2019.) Finally, somehow then-SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby scored a meeting with the prince.
In other words, bin Salman met with pretty much everyone, including leaders of some of the companies who have been giving him and his economic plans the cold shoulder lately. It would be awkward and perhaps a bit anxiety-inducing to be one of those people now!
Featured image: Amr Nabil (AP)