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Flush with money from Saudi monarchy, Silicon Valley grapples with Khashoggi’s death (New Indian Express)
October 29, 2018
By Anahita Mukherji
From the article:
“Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable,” read the headline of a Washington Post piece by journalist Jamal Khashoggi in September 2017. Over the last year, Khashoggi wrote a series of columns on Saudi Arabia’s violation of human rights, in which he spoke of the widespread arrest of activists and reformers who challenged the monarchy.
None of his pieces moved Silicon Valley tech companies enough to sever ties with Saudi Arabia, a country that has massive investments in America’s tech hub. But all of a sudden, Khashoggi’s gruesome murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month, believed to be orchestrated by Saudi’s monarchy, has put the spotlight on Silicon Valley’s blood money, leaving the tech industry in a quandary.
Earlier this year, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Silicon Valley, and was photographed with the biggest stars of the tech world as they showed him around their offices. The crown prince was often referred to by his initials, MBS.
Over the last month, the acronym has come to stand for Mister Bone Saw, a reference to the manner in which Khashoggi’s body was allegedly dismembered and disposed off.
While it’s unlikely that Silicon Valley was completely unaware of Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights track record before Khashoggi’s death, it has now become impossible to ignore.
In a piece for Slate, Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development, calls Giridharadas’s proposal “a new form of international boycott — one that involves refusing to accept cash rather than the more traditional approach based on refusing to hand it over.”
As many tech firms that Saudi Arabia has invested in are private, he says this would involve a more straightforward process than for companies listed on the stock exchange.
He points to close ties between Saudi Arabia and the US, which make the US government-led sanctions against Saudi Arabia unlikely. Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of US weapons, both countries are involved in military and intelligence cooperation and both are distasteful of Iran. And then there’s Saudi investment in President Donald Trump’s business.
Kenny points to consumer and institutional boycotts as an alternative to government sanctions. While the traditional method involves a refusal to buy or invest in a country, as was done to South Africa’s apartheid regime, Kenny believes this method won’t work for Saudi Arabia.
“Consumers don’t know where their gas comes from when they pump it at the station, and anyway, little Saudi gas oil makes it to the US,” Kenny wrote, adding that there is no point refusing to invest in Saudi firms, as the country is “desperately trying to find investment opportunities for its surplus cash.” According to him, the only option left is Giridharadas’s proposal of refusing to take Saudi money.