Saudi Arabia is on a roll with Aramco, Ruiz vs Joshua, and a new tourist visa. Mohammed bin Salman could use these 'wins' to whitewash his awful human-rights record.

Saudi Arabia is on a roll with Aramco, Ruiz vs Joshua, and a new tourist visa. Mohammed bin Salman could use these 'wins' to whitewash his awful human-rights record.
Mohammed bin Salman



Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March 2018.

  • Saudi Aramco became the most valuable company in the world on its opening day of trading on Wednesday, leaving US giants like Apple and Alphabet in the dust.
  • Though the process was fraught, it looks like another in a series of wins, after Saudi's introduction of a new tourist visa and its hosting an epic boxing fight between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua.
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to rehabilitate his image since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October, at a cost of billions.
  • These series of events suggest he could be succeeding.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be on a roll with Saudi Aramco's massive IPO, the Andy Ruiz vs Anthony Joshua boxing match, and the introduction of its first-ever tourist visa this year.

He could use these to rebuild his country's tattered reputation, which has struggled to recover from the high-profile murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wider concerns about Saudi human rights.

Here's a list of the kingdom's "wins" over the past three months:


saudi aramco ipo.Marwa Rashad/Reuters

Strobe lights ad confetti at the official ceremony marking the debut of Saudi Aramco's IPO on Riyadh's stock market on Wednesday.

Crown Prince Mohammed will undoubtedly see all these events as a boost for the country and his reform program. Analysts predict that the company's success will generate new jobs and help reduce unemployment.

His triumphant image today is in stark contrast to a year ago, when he was a pariah on the world stage, his image as a millennial modernizer in ruins after the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, was tortured and killed by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. The CIA concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, though he has repeatedly denied this.

khashoggi mbs

Associated Press/Virginia Mayo; Nicolas Asfouri - Pool/Getty

A composite image of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Crown Prince Mohammed.

He has since scrambled to repair his tattered image, spending billions of dollars on public-relations campaigns, and introducing a series of incremental social reforms to attract foreign attention to the kingdom.

Shortly before introducing the tourist visa scheme, Saudi Arabia had invited dozens of Instagram and YouTube influencers from around the world to luxury, all-expenses-paid supervised tours of the kingdom in exchange for favorable coverage. Business Insider's Bill Bostock reported on the story.

The kingdom is also plowing on with its $500 billion plan to build a futuristic mega-city 33 times the size of New York in a desert near the Red Sea. The settlement, named Neom, has wildly ambitious plans for technology like artificial rain, a fake moon, and robotic maids. It is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

Wingsuit divers soar over the site of Neom as part of the Extreme Sports Event in 2018.


Wingsuit divers soar over the site of Neom as part of the Extreme Sports Event in 2018.

The exact amount of money Saudi Arabia spent hosting Ruiz's rematch against Joshua last Saturday is unclear, but the two fighters were reported to have taken home $100 million, suggesting that the overall economic activity around the fight was vastly more.

Business Insider's Alan Dawson reported that the kingdom was using boxing to "sportswash" its image, and promoters were all too happy to comply in exchange for the money on offer.

Joshua Ruiz

Getty/Valery Sharifulin

Andy Ruiz Jr. vs Anthony Joshua in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, on December 7, 2019.

Saudi Arabia also announced in October that it would allow unmarried foreign couples share hotel rooms and let women rent hotel rooms by themselves. Earlier this week it ended compulsory gender segregation in restaurants.

In August, it also announced that women over the age of 21 will no longer need permission from their male guardians to leave the country. The system was largely managed via Absher, a smartphone app that allowed men to specify when and from where women can travel - essentially trapping them in the kingdom. The app and its devastating consequences were exposed by Business Insider's Bill Bostock earlier this year.

Are the kingdom's money and small social reforms working to repair its image as a human-rights violator that undermines women's rights, punishes critical journalists, gives the death penalty to protesters, and publicly beheads people?

The money and business flowing into the country suggest that they are.


Foreign investors who shunned Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi's murder have returned.

saudi aramco mohammed bin salman posterAhmed Yosri/Reuters

Men walk past the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) following the debut of Saudi Aramco's IPO in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday.

Last year members of the business elite and other world leaders boycotted "Davos in the Desert," Saudi Arabia's annual investment conference, amid the Khashoggi furor.

This year they came back. They include the bosses of HSBC, Blackstone, BlackRock, Credit Suisse, Virgin Hyperloop, and the World Bank.


Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi did not attend, citing a prescheduled board meeting, but covered for the kingdom last month by calling Khashoggi's murder "a mistake," and comparing it to mistakes that Uber had made.

Saudi Arabia's new position as the home of the world's most valuable company, and the location of the world's biggest-ever IPO, will likely cement the kingdom's status as an attractive place to invest and visit.

Crown Prince Mohammed may literally get away with murder.

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