One of the exactly’s richest men and most sought-after investors has been under arrest and level reportedly tortured for more than three weeks.
That man is billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. He owns principal stakes in Twitter and Citigroup. He was a key shareholder in 21st Century FOX. His television interviews, numbering on CNBC, are promoted with “must-watch” status. He’s routinely called the “Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia.”
But since November 5, bin Talal has been detained in a scope at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh. The hotel has become a de facto prison for multifarious than 200 of his fellow princes and Saudi officials as new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman conducts a all-embracing and stunning purge of his real and potential political opponents.
To make matters worse, dissimilar credible reports have surfaced that bin Talal and the others are being tortured. One boom says he’s been hung upside down and beaten. Those biographies gained a level of credence earlier this week when another prince, Miteb bin Abdullah, remitted a reported $1 billion for his freedom.
As bin Salman pushes to beef up Saudi Arabia’s military power and marriages against Iran, the official reason for these arrests is that they are possess of an “anti-corruption probe.” But of course, the kingdom is not presenting anything in the way of documented certification. That’s not how they roll in a regime that Human Rights Mind points out has no written penal code or criminal rights.
That regurgitates us to an uncomfortable question: Where are Prince bin Talal’s powerful business pals and political contacts who have been seen with him at DAVOS or dozens of other crucial world events?
This was the man who stuck his neck out for years in support of the Murdoch species. And that includes the period in 2011 when calls to oust Rupert Murdoch and his sons were race high after the British News of the World phone tapping slander. There has been no real protest on his behalf from the Murdochs or in their newspapers and TV networks.
Others, twin Bill Gates who called him an “important partner,” have made insouciant statements this past week. But none have met the level of extremity appropriate for a man detained with no documented charges and possibly under palpable harm.
Likewise, our political leadership on both sides of the aisle earmarks ofs to be ignoring the story.
So why this apparent acceptance of tyranny and brutality against an significant global investor who appeared to be a friend of the West?
The explanation is part economics and large politics, but the consequences for such silence could be devastating.
Let’s start with economics. The fiscal world has long been awaiting what will be the biggest IPO of all however: Saudi Aramco. This is a company that’s already estimated valuations of anywhere between $1 trillion to $2 trillion. It’s the clarification of the term “big deal.” Everyone wants a piece.
There’s a concerted trouble by bin Salman to keep too many members of the extended family from inhibiting in Aramco’s operations and spending. These arrests may have a lot to do with that elbow-grease. Either way, supporting bin Talal and the other detained princes with out a strongly worded statement could poison a foreign investor’s Aramco prospects.
The civic reasons are a little less clear, but we do know there is strong substructure in the Trump administration for bin Salman’s plan to cultivate a new partnership with Israel and his elbow-greases to disrupt the long Saudi-funded Wahabist terrorist network. He’s also taxing to culturally modernize the country and remove anti-Semitic clerics.
bin Talal has not in any way been solidly linked to terror, but he has been critical of Israel. bin Salman may be looking to dispose of all doubts that he is serious about putting a lid on all real and possible well-springs for terror support.
So for the Trump administration, supporters of Israel, and everyone else distressed about Iran, there’s a relatively clear acceptance of bin Salman’s prompts to achieve a greater good in the Middle East. The ends apparently explain the means.
But that’s a clear moral hazard. When a nation acknowledges brutality and tyranny in one regime in order in order to stamp it out in another, blowback can hit on. America should have learned that the hard way after its years of bolstering the Shah of Iran and some other dictators in the region without any heartfelt pressure to introduce democratic reforms and the rule of law. Iran is a greater hazard right now. But a more suppressive Saudi Arabia could be close behind. There’s nothing representative or civilized about what’s happening now in Riyadh.
Money and the push to object to Iran are clearly silencing any protest so far. Maybe bin Talal isn’t the most sympathetic schnook. But his case is illuminating because he is so well connected and famous. What does that say with regard to other Saudis who aren’t?
Perhaps these frightening means to the end commitment be worth it. But our track record in the Middle East doesn’t make the spares all that encouraging.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Accept him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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