One Month After Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing, What’s Left of Saudi Soft Power? – Jamal Khashoggi遇害一个月后,沙特软实力还剩下什么?

Earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, went on a diplomatic tour of the United Kingdom and the United States. His aim was to rebrand the Saudi monarchy as an enlightened, reforming institution, and to attract the Western investment that his country desperately needs if it is to end its dependence on oil. On his trip, MBS not only shook hands with Donald Trump and Theresa May, but also met with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Disney CEO Bob Iger. Media coverage, on the whole, was credulously positive, as the supposed young reformer was held up as the new bright hope for Saudi Arabia, and perhaps for the Middle East itself.

Jamal Khashoggi, 2014. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Mohammed Al-Shaikh

One Month After Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing, What’s Left of Saudi Soft Power? - Jamal Khashoggi遇害一个月后,沙特软实力还剩下什么?

Jamal Khashoggi, 2014. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Mohammed Al-Shaikh

Fast forward to this autumn, and the Crown Prince has barely emerged from weeks of scandal, beginning with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a mild critic of the monarchy, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The murder is widely and credibly believed to have been personally ordered by MBS, with the subsequent denials and cover-up taking on an increasingly farcical tone, as the grisly details of the killing gradually emerged. International opprobrium quickly escalated to encompass the whole of a newly aggressive Saudi foreign policy, including a failed blockade of Qatar, the kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister on a visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, and a brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen that has led to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, with 14 million Yemenis pushed to the brink of starvation. In October, Foreign Policy, one of the most respected political magazines in Washington, published an article likening MBS to the notorious former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

All in all, given the sheer scale of the Saudi effort to reboot the kingdom’s image abroad, and the fortunes lavished on Western PR firms and management consultants to that end, this must go down as one of the greatest failures in the history of public relations and international diplomacy. And that failure was predictable. The reality of Saudi rule – where misogyny is hardwired into the legal system, dissent is treated as a form of terrorism, and the ruler now wields his power on a virtually unchecked whim – has simply proved impossible to gloss. A major investment conference designed to attract foreign capital, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’, quickly descended into farce as Western CEOs and diplomats fell over themselves to pull out, while Washington finally bowed to political pressure and instructed the Saudis to conclude the Yemen war (albeit allowing them several more weeks to finish the job). Several major Western cultural institutions moved to suspend Saudi funding, including New York’s Brooklyn Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. British architect Norman Foster and other Western design leaders pulled out of the USD$500 billion Saudi fully-automated city project Neom. Meanwhile, the backlash over the decision by London’s National History Museum to host a reception for the Saudi embassy continues.

Promotional video for Neom, film still, 2018. Courtesy: Neom

One Month After Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing, What’s Left of Saudi Soft Power? - Jamal Khashoggi遇害一个月后,沙特软实力还剩下什么?

Promotional video for Neom, film still, 2018. Courtesy: Neom

‘Soft power’ – where states seek to enhance their international influence through improvements in their public image – has tended to be valued more by Riyadh’s neighbours than by the Saudi monarchy itself. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have a number of high profile investments in the West – from Harrods to the Shard, from Manchester City to Paris Saint-Germain – whereas the Saudis have tended to keep their investments low-profile, in bank deposits, equities and treasury bonds. Under MBS, however, the strategy changed, with the Saudi sovereign wealth funds visibly pouring petrodollars into new tech firms, while efforts were made to attract Western entertainment companies to the kingdom as part of a limited social liberalization apparently designed to offset a sharp increase in political repression.

Under MBS, ‘reform’ meant that women would be allowed to drive, but also that the women who had campaigned for the right to drive – and through their bravery forced the kingdom’s hand – would be rounded up and jailed as an object lesson to any of the Crown Prince’s subjects who dared to believe they might be permitted some say over their country’s future direction. The ban on cinemas would be lifted, the religious police reigned in, and the arts and entertainment sector expanded, but purely as a strategy of ‘bread and circuses’ to buy acquiescence in the entrenchment of absolute monarchical rule. For a time, it suited Western politicians, journalists, and members of the economic and entertainment elites, to believe the fiction of ‘MBS the reformer’. But that story could not be sustained for more than a few months. The reputation of the Crown Prince is now unsalvageable, with talk of Saudi ‘reform’ reduced to an international joke.

Ahmed Mater, Jibreel (Gabriel), 2012. Courtesy: the artist and Galleria Continua. Courtesy: the artist and Brooklyn Museum

One Month After Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing, What’s Left of Saudi Soft Power? - Jamal Khashoggi遇害一个月后,沙特软实力还剩下什么?

Ahmed Mater, Jibreel (Gabriel), 2012. Courtesy: the artist and Galleria Continua. Courtesy: the artist and Brooklyn Museum

The persistence of authoritarianism in the Arabian peninsula is often attributed to cultural factors, but the reality is that these societies are contested spaces like everywhere else in the world. The US and UK have long played a key role in shoring up the forces of repression, believing that the region’s monarchs were more reliable strategic allies than its peoples. But the sheer toxicity of the Saudi kingdom’s international image is turning these alliances into a liability. If the world starts to seriously decarbonize in the face of climate change, and oil revenues subsequently dry up, the Saudis could soon find themselves out of pocket, out of friends, and out of time.

Main image: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Jamal Khashoggi’s son. Courtesy: Saudi Press Agency

Opinion /

David Wearing
Opinion
Saudi Arabia
soft power
Jamal Khashoggi


今年早些时候,沙特阿拉伯的有效统治者穆罕默德·本·萨尔曼王储(MBS)对英国和美国进行了外交访问。他的目标是重塑沙特君主制为一个开明的、改革的机构,并吸引西方投资,如果沙特要结束对石油的依赖,西方国家就迫切需要这些投资。在访问期间,MBS不仅与唐纳德·特朗普和特丽莎·梅握手,还与Facebook的马克·扎克伯格、演员德韦恩·约翰逊、迪斯尼的CEO鲍勃·伊格尔会面。总的来说,媒体报道是令人信服的积极的,因为人们认为年轻的改革者是沙特阿拉伯,也许是中东自身新的光明希望。Jamal Khashoggi,2014岁。礼貌:盖蒂图片社/法新社;照片:穆罕默德A.Saikh One Month After Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing, What’s Left of Saudi Soft Power? - Jamal Khashoggi遇害一个月后,沙特软实力还剩下什么?贾马尔KHasoGi,2014。礼貌:盖蒂图片/法新社;照片:穆罕默德·沙伊赫快到今年秋天了,王储刚刚从几周的丑闻中走出来,从沙特记者贾马尔·哈肖吉在伊斯坦的沙特领事馆被谋杀开始。UL。人们普遍相信,这起谋杀案是由MBS亲自下令的,随后的否认和掩盖都以越来越滑稽的语调出现,因为杀人的可怕细节逐渐浮出水面。国际舆论迅速升级,包括沙特新近采取的侵略性外交政策,包括对卡塔尔的封锁失败、黎巴嫩总理在沙特首都利雅得访问时被绑架、以及沙特领导的也门野蛮战争,导致世界大战。最严重的人道主义灾难,1400万名也门人被推到饥饿的边缘。十月份,华盛顿最受尊敬的政治杂志之一《外交政策》发表了一篇文章,将MBS比作臭名昭著的前伊拉克独裁者萨达姆·侯赛因。总而言之,鉴于沙特在国外重振王国形象的努力规模之大,以及为此而给西方公关公司和管理顾问们带来的巨额财富,这必须被看作是公共关系和国际外交史上最大的失败之一。这种失败是可以预见的。沙特统治的现实——在法律体系中,厌恶女同性恋是根深蒂固的,异议被当作一种恐怖主义形式,而统治者现在以几乎不受控制的一时兴起来行使权力——被证明是无法掩饰的。一场旨在吸引外资的大型投资会议,被称为“沙漠中的达沃斯”,随着西方CEO和外交官们纷纷退出,很快陷入闹剧,而华盛顿最终屈服于政治压力,并指示沙特结束也门战争。(尽管让他们再继续工作几个星期)。几个主要的西方文化机构暂停了沙特的资助,包括纽约布鲁克林博物馆和大都会艺术博物馆。英国建筑师诺曼·福斯特(Norman Foster)和其他西方设计领军人物退出了价值5000亿美元的沙特全自动城市项目Neom。与此同时,人们对伦敦国家历史博物馆决定为沙特大使馆举办招待会的强烈反对仍在继续。促销视频为Neom,电影仍然,2018。礼貌:NEOM WPA6022602IMG促销视频为Neom,胶片仍然,2018。礼貌:新软实力——国家通过改善公共形象来增强其国际影响力——往往比起沙特君主制本身,利雅得邻国更看重它。卡塔尔和阿拉伯联合酋长国在西方有许多引人注目的投资——从哈罗德到沙特,从曼彻斯特城到巴黎圣日耳曼——而沙特人则倾向于保持低调,投资银行存款、股票和国债。然而,在MBS制度下,战略改变了,沙特主权财富基金明显地将石油美元注入新技术公司,同时努力吸引西方娱乐公司进入沙特阿拉伯,这显然是为了抵消急剧增长的有限社会自由化的一部分。在政治压制中。在MBS制度下,“改革”意味着允许妇女开车,但也意味着那些为争取驾车权利而奋斗的妇女——通过她们的勇敢迫使王国出手——将被逮捕并监禁,作为对任何敢于驾车的王储臣民的一个客观教训。相信他们可能会被允许谈论他们国家未来的方向。电影院的禁令将被解除,宗教警察将统治,艺术和娱乐部门将扩大,但纯粹是作为一种“面包和马戏团”的策略,以换取对巩固君主专制统治的默许。有一段时间,西方政治家、新闻记者以及经济和娱乐界精英们相信“改革者MBS”的虚构很合适。但这个故事不能持续几个月。王储的名声现在已无法消除,有关沙特阿拉伯“改革”的言论变成了一个国际笑话。Ahmed Mater,Jibreel(加布里埃尔),2012。礼貌:艺术家和加利西亚连续剧。礼貌:艺术家和布鲁克林艺术博物馆WPA6060602IMG艾哈迈德Matter,Jibreel(加布里埃尔),2012。礼貌:艺术家和加利西亚连续剧。礼貌:艺术家和布鲁克林博物馆.–阿拉伯半岛威权主义的持续常常归因于文化因素,但现实是,这些社会就像世界上其他地方一样是有争议的空间。长期以来,美国和英国在支持镇压力量方面发挥了关键作用,认为该地区的君主比其人民更可靠的战略盟友。但是沙特王国的国际形象的纯粹毒性正在把这些联盟变成一种责任。如果面对气候变化,世界开始认真地脱碳,石油收入随后枯竭,沙特人很快就会发现自己无家可归,无家可归,无家可归,无家可归。主要形象:王储Mohammed bin Salman会见Jamal Khashoggi的儿子。礼貌:沙特新闻社的意见/戴着意见的戴维·沙特阿拉伯软实力


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