The irony is that the boycott protesting against Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi crisis targeted programs that are concerned with development, youths, women, social development and the future.
The collective American withdrawals were not against political or military activities but against the investment conference which kicked off on Tuesday in Riyadh. Most of the program of the conference which was boycotted by a number of western companies and banks is directed towards reform in Saudi Arabia to empower youths, give women equal job opportunities, diminish the government’s role by increasing privatization, push towards a modern educational system, invest in entertainment and build museums and artistic centers and others.
The boycott by countries and companies, which until few years ago were the ones criticizing Riyadh for its social isolation, religious bigotry and prevention of artistic and social activities and which were calling for a bigger role for women and the private sector, seems strange.
The calls to boycott the investment conference came from different parties including extremist Islamic organizations that are exploiting the Khashoggi case for their own political purposes. According to the Wall Street Journal, the website which led a campaign that exerts pressure and intimidates companies and individuals participating in the conference was not innocent but belongs to a sympathizer with the Muslim Brotherhood and that appears as a respectable independent website to its visitors!
An illogical boycott
There’s no worry that Saudi Arabia will lack international investors or companies as long as it possesses massive financial liquidity and is willing to be open to the world and when it succeeds in reforming its fatal bureaucratic regulations and fighting corruption. Proof to that is that many of them backed down in the last hour and dispatched representatives. The conference did not fail, and investment did not stop.
Truth is I would have been understanding if the boycott had targeted a military industry conference or a political forum in Riyadh, and I would have viewed the boycott as an acceptable form of protest amid the circumstances of the current crisis. However, it does not seem logical to boycott programs and plans with brilliant trends that were viewed as an important development when Saudi institutions first announced them.
The aim is to push Saudi Arabia towards positive transformation and social openness, give women space and broad opportunities, convince the government to reduce its role in managing the society’s affairs by expanding the participation of the private sector, achieve automation and localization and improve the livelihood situation. All this is for the purpose of enhancing real growth and not just living off selling oil barrels. The aim of all this is to change the concepts of governments and societies by turning towards internal reform that the Middle East region which is always occupied with wars and political strife needs.
The success of Dubai, and the UAE in particular, in the past few years stimulated everyone to engage in the experience, and when Saudi Arabia began walking in the path of openness and transition, it came in the form of a social and economic revolution, and the Kingdom now too gives hope in changing the entire region towards the best. This path deserves encouragement no matter the accidents that happen and the victims who die.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed
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