Headlines all over the world read the same: Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist for the Washington Post was brutally killed on 2nd October 2018. A sharp critic of the Saudi government, all evidence points to the same fact: the House of Saud had an undeniable hand in the killing of Khashoggi. However, what is interesting to note is that this news horrifies both freedom of speech supporters and investors and economists alike. Saudi Arabia is a precious jewel, untouched by the quagmire of civil unrest and terrorism that surrounds it in the region. After this killing, however, the full extent of the repercussions remains to be seen.
The countless consequences of the murder of Khasoggi can be categorized into two parts: the political and the economic. Previously, the West and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed a crude yet functional relationship as suppliers and consumers of oil. However, the West’s relationship has been thrown into limbo given scepticism about Saudi Arabia’s shifting explanations of the killing. The murder of Khasoggi was a disappointment to the West: a gradual liberalization of Saudi Arabia, catalyzed by the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, was celebrated around the world. Women were finally being allowed to drive and watching movies became legal after 30 years. The Prince said it himself: “We were not like this in the past… we want to go back to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” The Prince is now forced to eat his words, as Saudi Arabia regresses to an all-too-familiar pattern of behaviours, a pattern seen in its neighbouring countries: a blatant disregard of freedom of speech.
The consequences also have numerous economic impacts. Investors were optimistic that Saudi Arabia was opening its markets, starting with the imminent privatization of Saudi ARAMCO, the governmentally owned oil company. The Future Investment Initiative, an annual investment forum started last year that was meant to position Saudi Arabia as an innovative, dynamic nation with a bright tech-centred future, was another marker that Saudi Arabia was reinventing itself. It was well attended last year, but after the killing of Khashoggi, the conference failed spectacularly. No one spoke at the conference and a seemingly never-ending list of companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Google and Uber, pulled out of the meeting. Masayoshi Son, leader of the SoftBank group, a large conduit for investments into Saudi Arabia, did not perform scheduled speech, and Richard Branson suspended his advisory role for the Saudi Vision 2030 project.
It is clear that what may seem like just the murder of one man actually wraps its malicious tendrils around the future of the House of Saud itself. It is disappointing to note that a country starting to show signs of a liberalization so severely lacking in the region. is slowly reverting into the conventions of the Middle East. Whether Saudi Arabia will pull through remains to be seen.