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After Journalist’s Alleged Murder, Tech Execs Distance Themselves from Saudis (buzzfeednews.com)
218 points by djrobstep 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

It was sad to watch so many "intellectual elites" fawn over MBS' "reforms". Wow women can drive and go to football games. Wow folks can watch Black Panther at the movies. All the while the Saudi government is bombing the hell of out kids in Yemen with bombs that have the US flag painted on em. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a thorough re-evaluation of our relationship with KSA but I highly doubt it.

It is not just the USA. The UK is a major manufacturer and supplier of military equipment to the Saudis, as is Canada. In fact just about every NATO country sells a significant amount of armaments to the Saudi military. Take a look at the wikipedia page for the saudi army and saudi air force and examine what aircraft, vehicles and weapons systems they use.

There are ongoing operational maintenance and training contracts worth billions. US "advisors" employed by major defense contractors are in Saudi Arabia right now training the Saudi air force.


And the Saudi military comes to train on U.S. soil, as well.


With all that oil money do you really want them to be propping up the Russian or Chinese mil complex?

With all that money (imho) they should have eliminated poverty, achieve peace with everyone around them, and have developed/progressed to the Star-Trek-TNG-quality-of-life we all dream of. But instead of the "United Federation of Planets" they became a mix beteen Ferengi and Cardassian.

Wow women can drive and go to football games.

Yeah; There's that little hitch that woman who actually camgaigned for this are rotting in a Saudi jail [1]

[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/05/saudi-arabia-...

We're watching the exact same thing going on with China and the Xi dictatorship. Before that, Silicon Valley enjoyed loading up on vast amounts of money from Russian gangsters.

They're torturing millions of Muslims in Xinjiang, directly or indirectly through terrifying police state actions that entirely revoke all human liberty.

There is no greater mass atrocity going on anywhere on earth than what's happening in Xinjiang.

How many people, companies, VC firms in Silicon Valley are working with China and living off of Chinese money?

Where's the mass outrage and suspension of relations with China? Nope, you won't see that. No chance in hell.

The millions of Muslims in China being tortured don't matter, and one journalist does? Not exactly: it's because China is a big fat platter of money and many want to feast on it. It's a willingness to disregard all ethics because the check is big enough. It's so much money, the people that claim to care about a single journalist, don't care about millions of people being actively repressed and tortured.

It goes to the line about a million deaths being a statistic, and one death being a tragedy. Same premise at work.

> They're torturing millions of Muslims in Xinjiang, directly or indirectly through terrifying police state actions that entirely revoke all human liberty.

Despite being repeated often, to my knowledge there's no evidence for that. It also doesn't sound very plausible as only about 10M Uigurs and Kasachs live there (those two are the mostly muslim minorities living there). If we assume this is about young to middle age male adults (because this is the relevant cohort in practically every violent conflict), "millions" of these are getting imprisoned and tortured implies that a whopping 100% of non-elderly muslim males in the region are in internment camps. Actually more than 100%, if we assume not every Uigur is a Muslim.

What we do know though, is that the conflicts in the region are very violent. Islamic extremists have bombed civilians on multiple occasions, including public markets, buses, killing sleeping workers in coal mines etc. [1]

And we know the Chinese police has killed people at riots, though I haven't yet researched the circumstances.

In both cases the violence is abhorrent and to be condemned. The mass torturing story seems to be fake, though.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xinjiang_conflict

I was also suspicious of MBS' 'anti-corruption' drive last year. There is no doubt that there's corruption among the rich and powerful but a sudden purge seemed more like a power consolidation move https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Saudi_Arabian_purge

That's smart for him to do. If you want absolute power you need to scare the crap out of the competitors(1). Remember, the way he got power is new, and could be there for 50 years. Lots of super rich, but unhappy cousins and uncles. No doubt the Marriot family meeting will happen again and again.

(1)...of course after you've made sure no coup d'etat happens in response.

He's consolidating power but if recordings come out on how the journo was murdered, this guy will no longer meet Bill Gates or Bezos in his next US trip. He'll be treated like mad African dictators were.

An anti-corruption drive is nearly always just a power shift. Look at the various ones in China, it's never about corruption and more about one branch of the political elite taking out another.

There was a dude doing an interview on NPR where he talked about a conference he was attending in Saudi Arabia. He said he was still going to the conference and talked about how the prince had a really tough job dealing with entrenched interests and he was doing "the best he could"....

It was pretty sickening to listen to.

Do you have a better way to rule a country? Iraw had a terrible dictator so the USA military killed him (which he personally deserved), which created mass chaos and gruesome murder across get middle East.

My comment was really about the dude going to the conference.

As far as your question the first step I guess would obviously be that I would object to killing journalists. Not a small ask, probabbly wouldn't create the collapse you're talking about.

Chomsky usefully distinguishes between truly dissident intellectuals and intellectuals who are merely servants of power.

Those "intellectual elites" are most likely the latter.

The US has killed 100k+ civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The press forgot about it and the American people mostly don't care. Welcome to the club, Saud.

>Saudi government is bombing the hell of out kids in Yemen with bombs that have the US flag painted on em


I don't want to single out the US or give the impression that I hate it. I actually love that country. No doubt one of the best countries in the world despite everything.

But I don't think SA is particularly worse than any other regional/global powerful country on earth wrt. foreign policy. Why should that prompt the US (or any other security council country for that matter) to re-evaluate their relationship when they commit the same, if not worse, crimes.

All the casualties of the Iraq War (measure over a decade and a half) are just a drop in the bucket compared to number of people who have been killed or the number of children who have died of hunger in Yemen over a few years. Casualties in Yemen are reaching a half million and the number of deaths have not yet been tallied correctly by the UN due to the blockade

Because it's one thing to do shitty things for your own self interested reasons...

and somewhere along a scale it becomes another to do shitty things for somebody else's twisted reasons.

I realize it's all intertwined and the House of Saud and the US are allies for reasons, but at some point it not only looks bad, I wonder if the Saudis will lose respect for the US?

Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is simple. They play lapdog for the petrodollar, and we not only turn a blind eye to everything they do, but even provide them weapons and other support in their endeavors. The only thing that would ever cause us to reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia, in the fashion you imply, is if one of the never ending Rumors of Saudi Arabia transitioning to settle oil contracts in e.g. the yuan became true. At that point expect us to suddenly decide Saudi Arabia is a huge violator of human rights under the rule of a despotic monarchy and is in desperate need of 'democracy' and 'regime change.'

This whole relationship makes all the Rumors of the Sauds swapping to the yuan all the more intriguing. If that ever did happen our response could well trigger something like a worldwide Cold War. China and probably Russia would likely have an obligation of support for Saudi Arabia, America would pull in NATO and the world would likely split along one side or the other. For that matter Saudi Arabia is also not like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, ... . Saudi Arabia itself is now world's third largest spender on defense in raw dollars - and #1 in the world by percent of GDP. 10% of their entire GDP goes to defense. By contrast, we spend about 3%. On top of that Mecca and Medina reside within Saudi Arabia. Propaganda would be strongly on the side of the Saudis who would portray an attack on them as an attack on Islam.

>China and probably Russia would likely have an obligation of support for Saudi Arabia...

I doubt that. In the KSA - Iran cold war, China is squarely in the Iran camp. Personally, I don't even think they side with Iran because we support The Kingdom. Rather I think they side with Iran because the more sanctions we put on Iran, the cheaper the oil and gas China can get out of Iran becomes.

But yeah, there is pretty much zero chance that China supports KSA. Even if KSA wanted to use the Yuan. Just wouldn't happen.

The US dollar is currently implicitly backed by oil. We 'print' (not literally - that's not how money is created) immense amounts of money to pay for things we cannot afford which ought have a catastrophic impact on any currency. We create 'growth' in wealth by dumping aforementioned funny money into assets creating price inflation -- quantitative easing. And our deficit is gradually growing out of control meaning we're left ever more paying off old debts by taking on more debts -- a policy that has a special term in the world of finance...

But the big thing here is that oil is still by far the most in demand resource in the world. And, thanks to some incredibly prescient negotiations dating back to the 70s, the majority of all oil producing nations only settle oil contracts in the dollar. This means that if you have a dollar you have access to oil. This creates an amazing system of externalizing stability. Imagine the value of the dollar decreases. This incentivizes foreign nations to increase their reserves of the dollar to ensure stable access to a fixed amount of oil. This, simultaneously, creates a natural dampening affect on any sort of inflation as that money is taken out of circulation. And this even applies with the Mideastern nations themselves. Saudi Arabia and other nations also agreed to purchase US securities with whatever leftover dollars they have after accounting for national expenses. Once again, helping to mitigate any negative consequence of let's say 'creative' economic policy.

Oil, the petro dollar in particular, stabilizes our currency and our economy. If you take the control of oil away from America, I do not think our military might alone would be sufficient to keep the dollar stable. And if the dollar loses stability our entire nation implodes. Everything that happens in the Mideast is based around this relatively simple fundamental aspect. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya. What they all actually have in common is that they expressed real intents to move away from the petro dollar. Venezuela has done the same.

The reason China/Russia would side against the US has nothing to do with oil or Saudi Arabia or Iran. It has to do with the US. If the petro dollar collapses, which it arguably already is, the US isn't far behind. And the US is still the greatest immediate danger to those nations. And the only reason Saudi Arabia would ever turn away from the petro dollar is if they believe the US will not be able to force them back to it, which would all but require the collapse of the US.

Saudi Arabia also indefinitely detains womens' rights activists:



They pay lip service to modernization and liberalization (like the legal change allowing women to drive), but in actuality it's one step forward, two steps back.

There is extensive documentation on the fact the Saudi Arabia and other states in the region fund fundamentalist, Hanafi / Wahabbist madrassas in Pakistan. Where do all the Pakistani jihadis fighting in Afghanistan come from? It's been known by intelligence agencies for years.


Tells you who the ruling class is, doesn't it.

There is a certain, big attack on US soil that is also known to be the work of certain people

MbS: First of all, this Wahhabism—please define it for us. We’re not familiar with it. We don’t know about it.

Goldberg: What do you mean you don’t know about it?

MbS: What is Wahhabism?

Goldberg: You’re the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. You know what Wahhabism is.

MbS: No one can define this Wahhabism.

Goldberg: It’s a movement founded by Ibn abd al-Wahhab in the 1700s, very fundamentalist in nature, an austere Salafist-style interpretation—

MbS: No one can define Wahhabism. There is no Wahhabism.


I bet his intentional ignorance would have been just as forceful if the interviewer had asked him if he knew who Sayyid Qutb was, and the history of his association with certain wealthy saudis.


I like how he cut him off when it became clear he could actually describe Wahhabism very well.

Ah the old act-like-it-never-happened routine, a very common tactic used by Machiavelli types.

So the Saudis can be responsible for the worst cholera epidemic in history and the direct killing of thousands of civilians in Yemen, but killing one journalist is suddenly a bridge too far?

The cynical answer is, basically, the Houthis are backed by Iran, who the US is happy to allow a US-equipment-supplied third party military to attack, because, well, "fuck iran", right? Axis of evil, nuclear program and all that. Iran's support for Hezbollah, which is in direct contradiction to the US' ongoing support of Israel, etc.

That's the way the world is. People only seem to sit up and take notice of terrible things on occasion. The answer isn't to be critical of them taking notice now, but to use it to make them aware of the other terrible things the same group is also doing.

they were aware. these are smart people. they don’t live under a rock.

It's a sad testament of how important and well shielded upper middle class sensibilities are. What you describe won't rattle those much, however, a violation of the sanctity of journalists clearly will. It's, imo, a blatantly corrupt set of ethics.

Not downplaying the severity of whatever else you have mentioned, but assassinating a journalist in a NATO member state is a very different situation.

From a human rights perspective, I'd rather the journalist die (or a dozen or so) than the hundreds/thousands of civilians in Yemen. From a bullshit political perspective, the journalist wins.

Just because civilians do not live in a NATO nation does not mean their lives are worthless and expendable.

> Just because civilians do not live in a NATO nation does not mean their lives are worthless and expendable.

Unfortunately it means exactly that, and not just in this case and not just in the politics - the very empathy that ordinary people feel about other humans is all about us and them, friendlies and "the others"...

Yeah, that's a weird one. Also interesting is that they are being outed by a regime which itself does some of the same things SA does (with regard to dissidents). Maybe it's because the US has taken some of the aid from Turkey and they want the same to happen to SA. But, really, who knows why they want to make this a big deal now.

Don't forget financing a handful of domestic airline tickets in 2001 (etc).

He worked with people who could publish articles about it.

It's often a single straw that breaks the camels back.

$45 billion (soon to be 90) in Saudi money sloshing around in SV via SoftBank. Everyone is complicit.

Seize it and distribute to the 9/11 survivors, first responders, and troops who served subsequently in Afghanistan.

Do that and foreign investment in the US would collapse.

Very tangible difference between an asset FREEZE, and an asset SEIZURE. And it's a difference wealth prez guys take deadly seriously.

Perhaps it's good that blood money isn't used to invest in the US.

> Just got word that Y Combinator's Sam Altman is suspending his involvement with the board of Neom. His statement: "This is well out of my expertise, so I don't plan to comment on the case until the investigation is finished."


On the one hand I really try to be mindful of the concerns someone like Altman faces that I don't, but then on the other hand I don't understand how anyone with any conscience, integrity and basic knowledge of history/politics would be able to have anything to do with the Saudi government.

Furthermore, if something is 'out of your expertise', why get into this situation in the first place? "ich habe es nicht gewusst" should at least not be valid approach/defense anymore.

It is deeply uncomfortable working in the tech industry knowing how much Saudi money has been sunk into VC funds and VC-back tech cos (some of which I've worked for).

Money from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority countries are well integrated into the world's Banking system. I doubt you can just carve out Saudi money out.

Building such filters now, would be quite a challenge technically, and obviously, our politicians think that that would destabilize the region, or move the 'seems-like-our-allies' towards Russia/China.

Plus it would affect dramatically London's real-estate prices (it will drop, by quite a bit) that could trigger some sort of short-term British pound crisis.

Most of the leading European Banks offer what is known as 'Islamic Finance' products, as well (that's in addition to other integration methods).

See (2015)

"... There are currently six Islamic banks in Britain, while another 20 lenders currently offer Islamic financial products and services, more than any other Western country.

Chancellor George Osborne has said promoting the Islamic finance industry, which is worth nearly $2 trillion, would help make Britain “the undisputed centre of the global financial system".

Mr Ellwood also celebrated notable sharia-compliant investments that have been used to fund some of the capital’s largest developments, including The Shard and the Olympic Village. …"

So VC money backed by Saudis is just one more, of many many vehicles employed.


If that makes you uncomfortable, research how much Saudi money was already invested into US real estate and major financial companies when 9/11 happened. The deal since the post WW2 era has basically been:

a) US and UK provide military equipment and military power to guarantee the security of the house of Saud. (Example: US reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, operation desert shield/desert storm).

b) Saudi government and ARAMCO extract a shitload of oil and sell it, while using technical services of US and UK oil companies

c) Saudi government re-invests a certain huge amount of the proceeds from their post-1940s oil wealth into the US and UK economies.

Sure, it's just much more tangible when you actively choose to work for a VC-backed tech co that has accepted Saudi money, especially coming off the news that Saudis are funding a large percentage of Softbank's newest fund.

Not to mention who owns so much of Twitter...

> some of Neom’s advisory board members, including ... [Sam] Altman, who sat down with the prince in April, declined to comment on their involvement

I hope he comments relatively soon (I'm not criticizing him for not commenting in time for this article). His leadership has a large influence on many, including in this forum. Tacit opposition and tacit support are the same thing.


Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, a startup incubator that has nurtured Airbnb and other well-known companies, suspended his involvement advising Saudi Arabia on a mega-city project there known as NEOM.

I'm with with him taking his time to think on this, but anything less than a proper statement about this situation and explaining his reasons for being on this board would be highly disappointing.

I cannot help but think that before this century ends (possibly even as early as 2050?), the KSA will have been reduced to that from which they came (before oil) i.e. not much. They will wield virtually no geopolitical influence. Within another hundred years, they will be a historical footnote.

They have significant geopolitical power. The entire Sunni realm is essentially under their rule. They blockaded Qatar and every Sunni nation followed suit. They don’t have nukes but technically can call on Pakistan for their nukes anytime they want. The avg Saudi lives like an upper class westerner and by upper class I don’t mean upper middle class like the majority of us tech guys. The poor in KSA are all foreign workers, the Saudis barely work at all and are rich with servants and cushy govt jobs.

They have the most influence in OPEC and they are now diversifying. KSA is invested all over SV. Uber, Tesla, Snapchat, biotech firms, SoftBank. Probably only 2nd to Russian oligarchs in terms of SV money. A bunch of princes are multibillionaires exclusively from American and British assets.

True, but the excess of their riches is matched only by the profligacy of their spending and protected by the USA. Once the oil is gone or irrelevant they lose the protection of America, and become merely a bunch of rich oligarchs. Some will manage it well, most wont.

EDIT: Forgot to add that their geopolitical power doesn’t come from their money but from their control of a global resource. If the unfortunate deaths of various Russian expat oligarchs has proven anything, it’s that no amount of money can buy you protection from a tier-1 state that wants you dead.

They have ridiculous amounts of money, if they're not too stupid about it, their investments alone should guarantee them influence for the foreseeable future.

Global warming won't do them any favors.

Maybe global warming is a secret plot done on purpose to make theer climate an impossible place to live.

We've needed to for awhile, for a lot of reasons; from 911 passports to weapons proliferation.

Saudi PIF has a large stake in SoftBank. SoftBank has large stakes in a wide range of unicorns in the US and globally.



Well, we can rest safe and assured that our human rights are assiduously guarded by Saudi Arabia as the chair of the UN human rights commission. You have the right to be beheaded - chop! chop!

Saudi Arabia introduce some progressive reforms like women being able to vote, companies feel like the coast is clear for business, Saudi Arabia does something terrible, companies shy away.

Reforming a country takes a long time, especially an absolute monarchy where the government owns the means of producing by far the most wealth in the country. So, my question is; if Western businesses keep doing this, is Saudi Arabia going to take two steps forward and one step back, inching their way towards progress, or just one step forward one step back staying in place?


Sincere question, what does this mean?

It's become common in the US to call for civility in politics, because civility is important.

Simultaneously, it's likely that a US ally had a journalist murdered and dismembered in order to silence them and send a message to others that are thinking about writing critical things about Saudi Arabia.

The implication is that the people calling for civility are living in some kind of fucked up dream land where being nice to bastards is important.

I think I understand what you're saying, but that interpretation seems disconnected too...

I might be wildly off about anigbrowl's comment, but for a while now it's been a bit of a 'meme' in the progressive(?) / left-but-serious-about-it camp that mainstream (US) democrats, and I suppose the bigger 'left' parties in Europe, have a weird kind of obsession with 'civility' and 'protocol' and whatnot while the world is burning, so to speak. his comment reminded me of that.


I don't get the joke, are you hinting at Yanni? I went to his concert a couple of months ago and he was doing a lot advertising for Saudi

I think that was /s, but I'm not sure...

the problem is most of of US citizens judge Saudi Arabia without knowing what is really going on, adopting an opinion based on what they see on the news - which is in English -

I laugh when I see some of the comments, especially from seemingly intellectual people.

As someone with relatives who live and work in the KSA as expats, the perception that Americans and the world has about KSA is pretty much on point. It’s a country ruled by a brutal kleptocractic family, which uses a particularly ultra conservative strain of Islam (Wahabisim) to keep themselves and their elite cronies in power.

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