Saudi Arabia kicks off its ‘Davos in the Desert’

Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, nicknamed ‘Davos in the desert’, kicked off on Tuesday as global business and finance leaders descended on Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel for three days of talks.

Does that hotel ring a bell? It’s the same spot where the crown prince (‘MBS’) infamously detained 400 of the kingdom’s princes, tycoons, and ministers for a violent ‘purge’ just days after his first Desert Davos in 2017.

His second Davos in the Desert was in October 2018.

Does that month ring a bell? It’s when Saudi officials dismembered Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. Most of the conference’s A-list attendees pulled out after the news broke.

But this week’s attendee list suggests the event is definitely back, with a pretty broad agenda including:

  • 🤖 AI – Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund called for global partnerships to shape the development of AI
  • 🔋 Manufacturing – The kingdom announced a new Hyundai car plant with Korea’s president, who attended the event, and
  • 🏙️ Neom – Riyadh unveiled a $10B deal with Danish logistics giant DSV to support the construction of the Neom desert megacity.

Intrigue’s take: One topic that was notably absent? The Israel-Hamas war a few hundred miles away, and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The week’s Ritz-Carlton program opened on Gaza’s deadliest day reported to date. But Saudi officials are avoiding interviews, and guest speakers seem to be following their lead, with only a few notable (if broad) mentions of the war from folks like the IMF chief and Citigroup CEO.

This approach suggests the Saudis are well aware what’s at stake for them and the entire region if the Israel-Hamas war spreads.

Also worth noting:

  • Reports emerged overnight of a brief Israeli ground raid into Gaza ahead of an expected wider invasion.
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