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Top business tycoon calls for Arab boycott of US, UK firms opting out of Saudi event

Tuesday October 16, 2018 12:17 PM, News Network

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

[UAE business tycoon Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor with Mr and Mrs Jimmy Carter in a file photo.]

Jeddah: As number of companies and executives from the United States and United Kingdom opting out of Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit to be held in Saudi Arabia later this month grows, UAE business tycoon Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor has a counter plan to bring them on board.

In an Op-Ed column written for Arab News, Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor has called for an Arab boycott of US companies and executives who have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit, or decided to freeze ongoing dealings with the Kingdom.

A number of media companies, including Bloomberg, New York Times, CNN and CNBC have announced pulling out of the partnerships with the FII summit dubbed as "Davos in the Desert" and scheduled to be held from October 23 to October 25, 2018 in Riyadh.

This was in the aftermath of the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, more than 10 days ago, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement with his disappearance, and has sent a team to assist Turkish investigators to find out what happened to the Saudi.

Khashoggi’s vanishing has caused many to blame Riyadh, given he had recently become a vocal critic of its leadership in a number of columns for The Washington Post, while living in the US.

Pulling out of the FII media partnerships, or executives, such as Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi cancelling their attendance, is unjustified, argued Habtoor, considering the investigation into the journalist’s whereabouts is ongoing.

The Emirati businessman also takes on London-based Virgin Group founder Richard Branson who suspended his negotiations on tourism projects in Saudi Arabia as well as discussions with the country’s Public Investment Fund.

“The Saudis’ Gulf Cooperation Council allies, as well as Egypt and Jordan, must stand shoulder to shoulder with Riyadh to show those companies they are not welcome to operate within our borders. They should be boycotted. Together we must prove we will not be bullied or else, mark my words, once they have finished kicking the Kingdom, we will be next in line. Now is the time to prove our loyalty and transparency toward each other,” the businessman said.

Al-Habtoor said he was “shocked” that the US Congress is pressurizing President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East when the truth has not even been determined. He also condemned US media, government officials and lawmakers for rushing to judgement on an active investigation.

“Last week, Saudi basked in America’s friendship. A single individual goes off the radar and Riyadh is targeted with warnings and threats from America’s political, financial and business sectors. Considering that the investigation is not yet over, if this is not gross overkill, then what is?” he asked.

The Future Investment Initiative (FII) runs from Oct. 23 to 25 with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde among those scheduled to take part.

More than 150 speakers from 140 different organizations have confirmed their attendance for the event which was hosted for the first time a year ago and was quickly dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — a reference to the annual World Economic Forum hosted each year in the Swiss resort.

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