Despite what should have been a permanent ‘scarlet letter’ following his alleged role in the dismemberment of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of one of the world’s most repressive nations, is back in the news by flexing its monetary muscles.
The Saudi-funded golf league known as LIV Golf began its eight-city tour in London last month. (Chicago’s Rich Harvest Farms will host one of the tournaments in September.) The money for LIV comes from the kingdom’s $620 billion. Public investment fund. Much to the chagrin of the PGA Tour, some of its best golfers have defected to this new “super league”.
The reason is obvious: the amount of prize money the kingdom throws at this league. According Golf Summary: “The first seven events will each offer $25 million in prize money, $20 million for individual prizes and an additional $5 million for the team competition.”
My friends, it’s blood money. All. Only. Riyal.
Truckloads of dirty money prompted defectors to conveniently look past Khashoggi’s murder. Like Phil Mickelson said famous last November“They’re scary (swear words) to get involved with. … They killed Khashoggi and have an awful human rights record. They execute people there because they’re gay.
“Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it?” Because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
A spooked Mickelson received around $200 million from his “scary” payers to sign up for LIV Golf.
The crown prince’s money has now landed closer to home. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has just announced that Professor Andreas Cangellaris, the school’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, will be leaving Illinois to become the founding President of NEOM U in Saudi Arabia. .
If you haven’t heard of NEOM, you’re probably not alone. It is a 10,000 square mile, $500 billion sustainable planned, pie-in-the-sky city located in the desert northwest of Saudi Arabia. The completion date is 2025, but if I was a bettor I would take over on the completion date.
In a statement accepting his new position, Cangellaris said: “To change the world for the better, you need everyone to become an agent of change. And that’s what NEOM U will do by bringing together learners from across the Kingdom and the world in NEOM’s living lab and immersing them in learning how the deliberate, responsible and innovative use of technology can improve our world and the human condition.
For those unfamiliar with academic jargon, let me summarize the quote above in one word: gobbledygook. God knows how many meetings have been called to write these wordless words.
Most Illinoisans have probably never heard of Cangellaris, even if they contributed to his six-figure annual salary. Who said there wasn’t a lot of money working for the state?
Perhaps this teacher of apprentices offered his services to the kingdom for free. (Maybe I’ll win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.) One can only speculate what his new salary will be, but it’s not a stretch to imagine it in the seven figures. Will the new contract include a car and driver, as well as a fully furnished, sand-free home, and fully reclined first-class airplane seats to ferry him to and from NEOM? Will there be a meeting with Mickelson?
Basic rule: When someone says it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money. So, should we assume that the shovelfuls of cash the crown prince throws his way justify Cangellaris sullying his excellent resume for a regime that President Joe Biden once called a “pariah”? Before kneeling recently to beg for oil from the kingdom, Biden said there was “very little social redemption value in the current government in Saudi Arabia” and that he would “stop selling hardware.” to the Saudis where they are going”. in and murdering children.
When Cangellaris shakes bin Salman’s gentle hand, will the ‘agent of change’ understand that any criticism of the pampered prince and the kingdom will not be tolerated? Is he aware of the thousands of innocent women and children in Yemen killed by the Saudi Air Force which dropped American-made 500-pound bombs on that impoverished country? Does he remember that 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia? Has he ever thought of Khashoggi’s family?
We humans can justify anything. It’s what makes us so wildly adaptable. Like cockroaches.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. Her next book, “Searching for A Way Home: Misadventures with Misanthropes and Family,” will be published next summer.
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