In this case, however, the high-profile A-listers had little choice but to ask the royal family for a rain check.
The last thing they needed was to get photographed skinning and grinning with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely suspected of being connected with the murder and gruesome dismemberment of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Talk about poor optics.
Khashoggi’s disappearance has forced the rich and powerful to put their profiteering on hold. But they can rest assured that the Saudi leadership — with the connivance of the Trump administration — is trying to find its way out of this tight spot so they all can get back to doing business.
In the meantime, I wonder how many are falling for the grand pretense that Saudi Arabia has only entered the ranks of gross human rights abusers because of the behavior of a power-mad, rich-boy prince.
The international business community and the foreign policy establishment know full well that the kingdom’s deep and dark side existed long before Mohammed’s daddy, King Salman, made him heir to the throne in June 2017.
Silencing opponents, stifling dissent, making arbitrary arrests and detentions; treating women as property; denouncing all religions except Islam as false and dangerous; prohibiting public display of a crucifix, Bible or yarmulke — these have been staples of Saudi governance for ages.
For years, American business moguls have flocked to Saudi Arabia to gain access to oil-provided wealth and turned a blind eye to human rights abuses, for the same reason given by Willie Sutton for robbing banks: “That’s where the money is.” International corporations have become Saudi Arabia’s enablers.
What makes it nauseating is to read their cynically public proclamations of support for fundamental principles of human rights.
Take, for example, JPMorgan Chase, which like many major corporations proclaims its moral values in corporate responsibility statements. The financial giant says it supports “fundamental principles of human rights across all our lines of business and in each region of the world in which we operate.” It professes to be guided by principles set forth in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights — including “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Early this week, JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said he would not be attending the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh.
Several days later came this report from the New York Times: “Saudi agents were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into their country’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, beheaded, dismembered, his fingers severed, and within two hours the killers were gone, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official.”
Will that be enough to convince JPMorgan Chase to strike its tent and move out of the desert kingdom?
Don’t hold your breath. JPMorgan Saudi Arabia Co. , 100 percent owned by JPMorgan International Finance Limited, does business with banks, Saudi government institutions, large corporate clients and large Saudi family groups. Its board chairman is a member of the Saudi royal family — Prince Mohammed K.A. Al-Faisal . Corporate social responsibility is, for some, only lip service.
JPMorgan Chase does not stand alone. McDonalds, which declares as part of its corporate responsibility “Human rights are universal rights that are intrinsic to every human being; they include the right to equality and freedom from discrimination,” bows to Saudi customs and maintains sections in its restaurants for men only and separate sections exclusively reserved for families (women and children); single, unrelated men and women can’t sit together and eat a Big Mac. Mickey D’s devotion to the crown prince prompted the Saudi Arabian franchise of the fast-food giant to take out a full page ad in June 2017 that read: “We renew our allegiance and obedience for his royal highness, the servant of the two holy mosques, King Salman the son of Abdul Aziz Al Saud. And we support Amir Mohammed bin Salman, his son, to become Minister of Defence and Prime Minister and to be nominated as successor. God give him wisdom and equip him to rule his kingdom. With peace and prosperity, McDonald’s.”
Others companies have also bowed down to the kingdom’s dark side.
If the Saudi regime is allowed to slip by with lies, and its villainous leader and his gang are able to prosper behind royal palace walls without paying a price, Jamal Khashoggi’s death will be an even greater travesty, and a naked affront to all we hold dear.
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