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article imageOp-Ed: Tech, arms and Saudi Arabia, defining the problems

By Paul Wallis     Oct 19, 2018 in World
Istanbul - Many of the world’s top tech companies and governments claim to have high ideals. Their problem now is that Saudi Arabia, one of the top global investors in tech, is now under a bloodstained shadow. What are they going to do about it?
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has raised some truly horrible images of both Saudi Arabia and its government. This is a complex story, far from straightforward in many ramifications, and a problem for the tech sector in many other ways. Saudi Arabia is trying to diversify and modernize its antiquated oil dependent economy by investment. Tech companies need big capital, and lots of it, in a very high value, high risk, environment.
Until the Khashoggi debacle, Saudi Arabia was a “known quantity” in the United States. Everyone new that Saudi domestic policies were hands-off subjects, and that was the story since the 1920s. Distasteful or not, Saudi Arabia meant big money. The oil companies, not exactly famous for their humanitarian instincts or as vertebrates, played ball, and so did most Western governments. The Saudi record on human rights is hardly stellar, even by Third World standards.
Now, even that’s all changed, and it only took one headline to do it, albeit a truly repulsive, inexcusable headline. The global fury at the Kashoggi assassination and its hideous allegations has basically turned Saudi Arabia in to a global pariah state.
Let’s not be too simple minded about the practical issues
The theory is that tech companies should reject Saudi money in protest, and to take a stand. That’s not going to happen, even if they try to do so directly. Investment can come in many forms, including indirect investment, proxy investment, and other workarounds. Investment funds, for example, can invest in tech using Saudi money as hands-clean agents for the Saudis.
Some tech firms, notably Virgin Galactic, have suspended their relationship with Saudi Arabia, but they’re the exception. SoftBank, a Saudi/Japanese investment hub, is a good illustration of the practical handicaps, to say the least, in taking any action against its major funding source. Current “scrutiny” doesn’t amount to much in real world finance terms. Other major companies, notably News International, in which Saudi Arabia is a major direct stakeholder, have potential issues in terms of news neutrality (bizarre expression to use about a company dedicated to partisan news) and the role of the Saudis in the company.
Let’s also not assume that big money has suddenly lost its appeal for the tech and finance sectors. Some companies will be likely to ignore the Khashoggi issue entirely simply for financial reasons. This is a capital-intensive sector, and tech companies are currently under no legal obligation whatsoever to reject funding. That might change if US sanctions are applied, but don’t hold your breath. It’s unlikely that the highly experienced Saudis don’t know how to dodge sanctions, and if they don’t their foreign agents certainly do.
In the arms sector, the problems are even more clearly defined. Would the US reject $100 billion in arms sales? No, not even remotely credible. After all, the US has been arming all types of governments, regardless of human rights or anything else, for decades. The total worth of a conscience, let alone a deliberate policy of withholding arms sales in the US arms sector wouldn’t translate in to a full cent, in dollar values.
Crisis point, or excuse factory? Diplomacy as enabler of murder
Saudi Arabia has just announced that Mr Khashoggi is definitely dead, “killed in a fight in the consulate” and that 18 people have been arrested. Let’s leave out the bit about one person who was trying to get his marriage certificate (!!!!!) in a fistfight with multiple people in a consulate for a moment and focus on the likely outcome of this revelation.
Let’s say 18 people happened to be hanging around in the consulate and were in some way responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s death. How does this get Saudi Arabia off the hook? With ease. There are now parties who can be held guilty, and any number of reasons for Saudi Arabia not to be held directly responsible for the death.
That’s diplomacy as an enabler of murder at work. Excuses are currency in foreign relations. Even if the very difficult/extraordinary issue of Turkish bugging of the Saudi Arabian embassy is suddenly off the radar, it’s game over for any sort of sanctions or investment action.
It’s highly unlikely that the West will take any action at all. Nor will China or the other major players in tech. The trashy sycophant-addicts of US politics will be able to rejoice in yet another case of total inaction against basic human rights. Hard to imagine the Kochs, Murdochs, or other big players caring about some guy who got murdered for trying to get his marriage license, isn’t it? Just dig up Bill O’Reilly to say how great it is this guy was tortured and killed, and all will be well, eh? These are the bastards running this backward world, remember. Nothing will ever be done right, and certainly not for a good reason, ever.
This is another case of blatant crime rampant in trade of all kinds, and the game doesn’t change, ever. The question of compensation for Mr Khashoggi’s family may or may not arise, small consolation if any for this atrocity. Imagine any legal situation in which tech, arms companies and the finance sector are supposed to act like human beings. Ridiculous, isn’t it? These sons of dunghills could never be human beings, whatever their religious and moral pretensions.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Kashoggi murder, Saudi arabia, tech companies and saudi investment, Virgin galactic, saudi arabia human rights
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