Trump’s 9/11 comments mark latest in a string of public relations victories for Saudi Arabia
Former President Donald Trump’s comments casting doubt on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks mark the latest in a string of recent public
Former President Donald Trump’s comments casting doubt on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks mark the latest in a string of recent public relations victories for the desert kingdom and its ruling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Four years after he was accused of ordering the murder of prominent Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the crown prince has been welcomed in two European capitals and a Saudi-funded golf tournament teed off this weekend at Trump’s Bedminster golf club.
With Salman also enjoying positive headlines about his outlandish plans for a futuristic mega-city this week, activists and experts warned that Saudi Arabia’s efforts to mend its global standing were working despite scant evidence of a change in its approach to human rights, fueling accusations of Western hypocrisy and undermining calls for reform in the region.
On Thursday, Riyadh’s ongoing efforts to distance itself from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks received a welcome boost when Trump said “nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11,” in response to criticism from victims’ families about his decision to host the lavish LIV golf series event at his club in New Jersey.
The kingdom’s investment fund is bankrolling the lucrative breakaway golf tour, while a Saudi-backed consortium also bought British soccer club Newcastle United last year.
“Saudi Arabia has adopted a deliberate long-term strategy of investing in sports and celebrity to distract from their reputation — sportswashing, white washing, reputation laundering,” said Michael Page, deputy director in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.
“The money that the Saudis are using is shaping the way that people downplay or deflect from very serious concerns about Saudi Arabia, especially human rights abuses,” he added.
Many Americans hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the 9/11 attacks given that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Investigations have not implicated Saudi leaders, but did highlight links between Saudi nationals and the funding of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The Saudi government denies any involvement.
Trump’s comments came almost two weeks after President Joe Biden bumped fists with Crown Prince Mohammed during a visit to the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.
The move outraged rights groups, who want the crown prince held to account for the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of intelligence operatives with close ties to the crown prince, according to a U.S. intelligence report.
Salman has accepted responsibility for the slaying but has denied any involvement, blaming the murder on rogue Saudi operatives.
The incident prompted international revulsion, and in 2019, Biden, then a presidential candidate, vowed to make the kingdom a “pariah.”
“Bin Salman was isolated, he was condemned for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Now he has received the red carpet reception … he’s out of his cage,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, political analyst and editor of Arab news website Rai al-Youm.