This month, Saudi Arabia’s oil company, Aramco, revealed that it generated $111.1 billion in net income last year, making it the world’s most profitable company by far. So it is not particularly surprising that a scant six months after the murder and dismemberment of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by government goons stunned the world, businesses and banks are once again courting the kingdom.
Hundreds of investors lined up this month to bid in Aramco’s first bond sale; among businesses humming in the kingdom, the movie theater giant AMC is moving ahead with plans for 40 new theaters, and Google is working on a data center. “The fact that there are issues in the press does not tell me I must run away from a place. In many cases it tells me I should run to and invest because what we are most frightened of are things that we don’t talk about,” explained Larry Fink, the BlackRock chief executive, who created waves earlier this year when he argued that business must provide leadership on social and political issues.
Mr. Fink’s statement appeared to be a variation on what many other corporate barons have used as justification for working with the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — that they are helping Saudis to reform and modernize their society. In that context, it might be instructive to revisit some of the “issues in the press.”
Let us set aside for the moment the strong indications provided by American and Turkish intelligence that Prince Mohammed was behind Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, which he denies. The purported modernization decreed by the prince has been accompanied by a broad campaign of arrests, trials, convictions and executions. [Continue reading…]