CEO Conundrum: Attending “Davos in the Desert,” Amid Diplomatic Tensions

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Davos in the Desert

Top CEOs must decide whether to attend the Future Investment Initiative, a renowned conference in Saudi Arabia frequently compared to “Davos in the desert,” in light of President Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel and attempts to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. This yearly occasion, which will start on October 24, aims to emphasize the influence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman among top business figures worldwide and to further his ambitious economic plan. The decision to attend, however, is not an easy one.

What are the risk for CEO’s to attend Davos in the Desert.?:

Notable individuals like Larry Fink of BlackRock, David Rubenstein of Carlyle, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, and Bill Winters of Standard Chartered are among the participants scheduled. Bill Winters’ attendance was verified by a spokesperson, but those for Dimon, Rubenstein, and Solomon declined to comment on their attendance at Davos in the Desert, and Fink’s spokeswoman remained silent.

Impacts and Importance of “Davos in the Desert”:

For these business leaders, the choice represents more than just a chance to network; it also serves as a declaration of support for Crown Prince Mohammed. Saudi Arabia has spent billions in a variety of industries, including high finance, media, and sports, making it a prominent client for large international banks and industrial giants.

Some executives, though, are worried about how the event will be seen. They cite an initial Riyadh statement that seemed to place the blame for the October 7 Hamas strikes on Israel. The crown prince is allegedly in talks with the Iranian government to stop the dispute from escalating, while diplomatic efforts to normalize relations with Israel appear to be on pause.

Crown Prince Mohammed made Secretary of State Antony Blinken wait for hours before their meeting and demanded an end to the “current escalation” of the dispute, despite Riyadh’s resistance to American efforts to restore calm and preserve progress in Saudi-Israeli negotiations.

“Davos in the Desert”

The head of the Middle East and North Africa research team for the Eurasia Group, Ayham Kamel, observed that the top news coming from the region at the moment is not particularly encouraging.

Previous unpopularity of Davos in the Desert:

Even still, going to the conference might not be as unpopular as in prior years. Following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018, a large number of senior CEOs withdrew from the event. Since then, the situation has changed as a result of conversations about mending relations with Israel and Prince Mohammed’s vocal support for economic development. Interest has also been generated by the kingdom’s multibillion-dollar economic diplomacy programs.

Many executives are currently planning to attend. Some have argued that their presence could support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to modernize. Reuters reports that only two of the roughly 5,000 participants had canceled.

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The scenario might alter, however, if the number of fatalities in Gaza keeps rising, putting more pressure on Arab leaders to take a stronger position against Israel to appease their pro-Palestinian audiences. According to F. Gregory Gause III of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, Crown Prince Mohammed may withstand this pressure better than most leaders since he appears to be less influenced by public opinion.

The stakes for corporate leaders may rise if Saudi Arabia changes its stance, especially considering the outspoken support many of them have shown for Israel in recent weeks. As noted by Nader Hashemi, a Georgetown professor of Middle Eastern affairs, the Saudis will probably pay attention to which executives decide to go.

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