from the cleaning-house dept.
Something is definitely going on in Saudi Arabia:
Saudi authorities arrested at least 11 princes, several current ministers and dozens of former ministers in a sweeping move reportedly designed to consolidate power for the son of King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. According to media reports citing Saudi-owned television network Al Arabiya, an anti-corruption committee ordered the arrests hours after King Salman directed the creation of the committee, headed by his favorite son and adviser, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The committee was established by the royal decree, The Associated Press reports, "due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds." Billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is among those detained, The Wall Street Journal reports. Alwaleed holds stakes in some of the world's major companies, including Apple and Twitter.
Remember Prince Alwaleed? Bitcoin could outlive him.
Separately, the heads of the Saudi National Guard and Saudi Royal Navy have also been replaced.
BBC notes that the reform faction is in control here:
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says Prince Mohammed is moving to consolidate his growing power while spearheading a reform programme. [...] Prince Mohammed recently said the return of "moderate Islam" was key to his plans to modernise Saudi Arabia. Addressing an economic conference in Riyadh, he vowed to "eradicate the remnants of extremism very soon". Last year, Prince Mohammed unveiled a wide-ranging plan to bring social and economic change to the oil-dependent kingdom.
Some Soylentils have been skeptical of Saudi Arabia's recent moves towards liberalization (some listed below). Has this apparent purge of internal political opposition changed your mind about the viability of these reforms?
Previously: SoftBank May Sell 25% of ARM to Vision Fund; Chairman Meets With Saudi King
Saudi Arabia, UAE to Donate to Women Entrepreneurs Fund
Saudi Arabia to Lift Ban on Online VoIP and Video Calling Services
Saudi Arabia Will Lift Ban on Women Drivers Next Year
Saudi Arabia Planning $500 Billion Megacity and Business Zone
Robot Granted "Citizenship" in Saudi Arabia, Sparking Backlash
Saudi Arabia Announced Plans to Extract Uranium for Domestic Nuclear Power Program
SoftBank will reportedly sell a 25% stake in ARM ($8 billion) to the ~$100 billion investment fund it has jointly created with Saudi Arabia, Apple, and others. ARM Holdings was bought by SoftBank for around $32 billion last year.
SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son met with Saudi King Salman during the King's state visit to Japan. Son gave the King one of his company's humanoid robots. Saudi Arabia is seeking investors as it prepares to launch an initial public offering for Saudi Aramco. Toyota agreed to conduct a feasibility study into the idea of production in Saudi Arabia, the result of one of twenty memorandums of understanding signed by Japanese companies and institutions with Saudi Arabia.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the World Bank's Women Entrepreneurs Fund, an idea that the president's elder daughter proposed, will work to help women in the Middle East who want to start their own businesses.
The [$100 million] donation from Saudi Arabia and the UAE was set to be announced at a Sunday event with President Trump's daughter, according to the report.
The first daughter spoke with Saudi women who are civil leaders, businesswomen and elected government officials during the president's first foreign trip.
The announcement by World Bank President Jim Young Kim came during a visit to Saudi Arabia by President Trump, who was accompanied by his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
"We thought it was a fantastic idea," Kim said. "But we had no idea how quickly this would build. This is really a stunning achievement. I've never seen anything come together so quickly, and I really have to say that Ivanka's leadership has been tremendous." The money will help kick off a $1 billion women's empowerment fund that the World Bank will announce in July, he said.
Saudia Arabia will lift a 2013 ban on Internet calling services:
Saudi Arabia will lift a ban on internet phone calls, a government spokesman said, part of efforts to attract more business to the country. All online voice and video call services such as Microsoft's Skype and Facebook's WhatsApp that satisfy regulatory requirements will become accessible at midnight (2100 GMT), Adel Abu Hameed, spokesman for the telecoms regulator CITC said on Twitter on Wednesday.
The policy reversal represents part of the Saudi government's broad reforms to diversify the economy partly in response to low oil prices, which have hit the country's finances. "Digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivise the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries," a statement from the information ministry said. "Access to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) will reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship – that's why it is such an important step in the Kingdom's internet regulation," it said.
Perhaps they found the backdoors.
Also at TechCrunch.
Saudi Arabia will lift its ban on women drivers in June 2018, in a move the interior minister said would "transform traffic safety":
Saudi Arabia's lifting of a much criticized ban on women drivers will reduce the number of car crashes in a country with one of the world's worst traffic-related death rates, its interior minister said on Thursday.
King Salman announced the historic change on Tuesday, ending a conservative tradition which limited women's mobility and was seen by rights activists as an emblem of their suppression in the kingdom where Islam originated.
Saudi Arabia was the only remaining country in the world to bar women from driving, a policy that will officially end in June 2018 after a ministerial committee reports on measures needed for implementation.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, the interior minister who took over from his uncle in June, said security forces were ready to apply traffic laws to men and women, though he did not mention if women would be recruited as traffic police.
"Women driving cars will transform traffic safety into a pedagogical practice which will reduce human and economic losses caused by accidents," he was quoted as saying on the ministry's official Twitter feed. He did not elaborate.
The current King of Saudi Arabia was crowned on January 23, 2015.
Saudi Arabia is planning to build a new $500+ billion city on the coast of the Red Sea. The zone will be connected to Jordan by land and Egypt by a bridge across the Red Sea. SoftBank's Vision Fund will buy a stake in the state-owned Saudi Electricity Co., which will power the city using clean energy. The project is called NEOM:
Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans to build a new city and business zone - a project that will be backed up by more than $500bn (£381bn) in investment.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says the 26,500 sq km (10,232 sq mile) NEOM zone will be developed in the north-west, extending to Egypt and Jordan.
It will focus on nine sectors including food technology and, energy and water.
The crown prince has been leading a drive to move Saudi Arabia away from its dependence on oil revenues.
In August, the Gulf kingdom launched a massive tourism development project to turn 50 islands and other sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.
However, the extremely ambitious nature of Mohammed bin Salman's vision is sure to raise questions about how realistic it is, the BBC's economics correspondent Andrew Walker says.
What is "NEOM"? "Neo" (Latin for "new") + "Mostaqbal" (Arabic for "future").
Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed has joined a growing group of Bitcoin skeptics:
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed is joining the long line of skeptics saying bitcoin is a bubble as the digital currency continues to set record highs. "I just don't believe in this bitcoin thing. I think it's just going to implode one day. I think this is Enron in the making," Alwaleed told CNBC in an interview. "It just doesn't make sense. This thing is not regulated, it's not under control, it's not under the supervision" of any central bank, he said.
In his interview with CNBC, he said that the high price of Uber made Lyft a more attractive investment:
"We were in discussions with both Uber and Lyft, but when we evaluated both companies, we thought that Lyft is a better entry point for us. Because at that time, Uber's price was at a plateau of its highest height. So we invested in Lyft, and we have a very good relationship with .... the management," Alwaleed said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box. "But Uber still is a great company, obviously, and Uber is the company that began with this whole idea of shared rides. Our choice was to go with Lyft but it doesn't mean that Uber is not good."
Alwaleed, who runs Kingdom Holding, made his comments on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report that another Saudi fund, state-owned Public Investment Fund, was struggling to deal with a disappointing investment in Uber.
A feminine robot has apparently been granted "citizenship" in Saudi Arabia, sparking a heated discussion over a lack of rights for women and foreign workers:
A robot woman in Saudi Arabia was granted citizenship this week, sparking a backlash that said the robot appeared to have more rights than millions of human women and foreigners living in the Gulf nation. Sophia, a robot with human female features that can make facial expressions and hold conversations, wooed the crowd when it debuted at a economic summit in the country's capital, Riyadh, this week.
As it stood on stage during a panel Wednesday, the robot learned from the moderator, CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin, that Saudi Arabia had granted it what Sorkin called "the first Saudi citizenship for a robot." "I'm very honored and proud for this unique distinction," Sophia said, to applause. "This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship."
[...] Soon after, though, social media users pointed out that Sophia had quickly achieved more rights than millions of women and foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, which has been criticized globally for repressing women's and civil rights.
For one, Sophia appeared on stage alone, without the modest dress required of Saudi women; she donned no hijab, or headscarf, nor abaya, or cloak. She also did not appear to have a male guardian, as required by Saudi law for women in the country. Male guardians, often a male relative, must give permission before women can travel abroad, open bank accounts or carry out a host of other tasks -- and they accompany women in public. Sophia also seems to have leapfrogged foreign workers in the Saudi kingdom, many of whom have fled poor working conditions but are prevented by law from leaving the country.
The robot also trolled Elon Musk:
Saudi Arabia plans to extract uranium domestically as part of its nuclear power program and sees this as a step towards "self-sufficiency" in producing atomic fuel, a senior official said on Monday.
Extracting its own uranium also makes sense from an economic point of view, said Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, head of the Saudi government agency tasked with the nuclear plans, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE).
In a speech at an international nuclear power conference in Abu Dhabi, he did not specify whether Saudi Arabia seeks to also enrich and reprocess uranium – steps in the fuel cycle which are especially sensitive as they can open up the possibility of military uses of the material.
The world's top oil exporter says it wants to tap atomic power for peaceful purposes only in order to diversify its energy supply and will award a construction contract for its first two nuclear reactors by the end of 2018.
Also at Newsweek.
Saudi Aramco and Alphabet/Google may cooperate on a "technology hub" within Saudi Arabia, or at least build some data centers:
Saudi Aramco, the world's largest energy company, and Google parent Alphabet have entered discussions to create a technology hub in Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The kingdom is embarking upon an ambitious plan, led by the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to diversify the nation's oil-dependent economy. The foundation of the effort is a plan to create a huge sovereign wealth fund, underwritten by selling shares in the state-owned Aramco.
The initial public offering, which could happen this year, is expected to be the world's biggest-ever share sale. Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser recently told CNBC his company is ready for the IPO this year, but is waiting on the government to choose an international list venue.
Alphabet and Aramco have discussed forming a joint venture that would build data centers around the kingdom, sources familiar with the matter tell the Journal. It remains to be seen which customers the data centers would serve and how large the joint venture would be, but it could be listed in the Saudi stock exchange, the sources said.
Data centers are just a "tangible" area of cooperation, not necessarily the entire purpose of the joint venture. Saudi Arabia has talked about building a $500+ billion "megacity" that would be technology-focused.
Meanwhile, slightly-less-of-a-billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has been put back to work: