Saudi Arabia hosts 'Davos in Desert' amid Covid-19

Saudi Arabia hosts 'Davos in Desert' amid Covid-19 pandemic

Only 200 of around 8,000 registered delegates are attending the fourth edition of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in-person

Mask-clad guard stand at the entrance of the fourth edition of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference at the capital Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel. Credit: AFP Photo

Saudi Arabia opened a two-day Davos-style investment forum Wednesday, with dozens of global policy makers and business tycoons lined up to speak at the largely virtual event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 200 of around 8,000 registered delegates are attending the fourth edition of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in-person at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel, organisers said. Previous summits drew thousands of Wall Street titans and global policymakers.

Around 100 speakers are set to participate virtually from FII hubs in New York, Paris, Beijing and Mumbai and 50 are physically attending the conference, which seeks to showcase the insular kingdom as a dynamic investment destination.

The participants include Goldman Sachs chief executive David Solomon, Stephen Schwarzman, head of private equity firm Blackstone, American asset management company Blackrock's chief executive Larry Fink and former Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, organisers said.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a fundamental rethink about the ways in which economies and societies function," said Richard Attias, chief executive of Riyadh's FII Institute, which organised the summit.

"We have brought together the best and the brightest minds in person and virtually, to set the course for 2021 tackling the biggest challenges we are all facing."

The summit, originally slated to be held last October, coincides with the Davos World Economic Forum and comes as the global economy reels from the devastating impact of the pandemic.

"There has never been a more important time for leaders, investors and policy makers to come together to work towards re-energising the global economy," Yasir al-Rumayyan, chairman of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, said in a statement.

The annual summit, dubbed "Davos in the desert", was launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 to woo foreign investors and promote his Vision 2030 diversification plan to wean the economy off its dependence on petro-dollars.

But the following year, the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder by Saudi agents in Istanbul prompted a wave of business and political leaders to pull out of the glitzy conference at the last minute.

The murder at Saudi Arabia's consulate in the Turkish city triggered one of the kingdom's worst ever diplomatic and public relations crises.

The conference saw a reboot in 2019 as global outrage over the murder subsided.

The forum is billed as an economic coming-out party for the kingdom, which is eager to project its economic ambitions.