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Riyadh's FII and the Boycott

Riyadh's FII and the Boycott

Wednesday, 24 October, 2018 - 14:15
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.
The recent boycott protesting over the Khashoggi crisis ironically targets Saudi programs that are concerned with development, youth, women, social development and the future.

The collective American withdrawals were not against political or military activities but against the investment conference which kicked off on Tuesday in Riyadh. Most of the conference's program, which has been boycotted by a number of Western companies and banks, is directed towards reform in Saudi Arabia to empower youths, give women equal job opportunities, support privatization, push towards a modern educational system, invest in entertainment, and build museums and art centers and others.

The boycott by countries and companies, which until few years ago were the ones criticizing Riyadh for its social isolation, religious bigotry, and prevention of artistic and social activities and which were calling for a bigger role for women and the private sector, seems strange.

Calls to boycott the FII came from different parties including extremist Islamic organizations that are exploiting the Khashoggi case for their own political purposes. According to the Wall Street Journal, the website which led a campaign that exerts pressure and intimidates companies and individuals participating in the conference is not innocent but belongs to a sympathizer with the Muslim Brotherhood and that appears as a respectable independent website to its visitors!

There’s no worry that Saudi Arabia will lack international investors or companies as long as it possesses massive financial liquidity and is willing to be open to the world. Proof to that is that many of them backed down in the last hour and dispatched representatives. The conference did not fail, and investment did not stop.

Truth is it would have been reasonable if the boycott had targeted a military industry conference or a political forum in Riyadh, and it would have been an acceptable form of protest amid the circumstances of the current crisis. However, it does not seem logical to boycott programs and plans that were viewed as an important development when Saudi institutions first announced them.

The aim is to push Saudi Arabia towards positive transformation and social openness, give women space and broad opportunities, convince the government to reduce its role in managing the society’s affairs by expanding the participation of the private sector, achieve automation and localization and improve the livelihood situation. All this is for the purpose of enhancing real growth and not just living off selling oil barrels. The aim of all this is to change the concepts of governments and societies by turning towards internal reform that the Middle East region-- which is always occupied with wars and political strife-- desperately needs.

The success of Dubai, and the UAE in particular, in the past few years stimulated everyone to engage in the experience, and when Saudi Arabia began walking the path of openness and transition, it came in the form of a social and economic revolution, and the Kingdom now too gives hope in changing the entire region towards the best. This path deserves encouragement no matter the accidents or the victims.

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