Those plans hinge on reducing tensions in the region, not inflaming them, and to this end, Saudi Arabia recently re-established ties with its regional rival Iran, which backs Hamas and several other militias across the Middle East. Behind the scenes, Saudi officials are scrambling to contain the fallout of the conflict, which they fear could destabilize the whole region.
“Before the 7th of October, a lot of de-escalation had happened, which brought a lot of hope for the region, and we don’t want the recent events to derail that,” the Saudi finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, said during the three-day conference, which ended on Thursday.
Five years ago, Prince Mohammed sat in the same gilded conference hall where the forum was held this year and declared that the Middle East would become the world’s “new Europe.” Since then, he has rendered the conservative Islamic kingdom nearly unrecognizable, ending many social restrictions and pushing forward a sweeping economic plan, while at the same time increasing political repression and cracking down on dissent.
Since the war began, life in the kingdom has been a split screen. On one side, many Saudis are glued to their social media feeds in horror, scrolling through videos of weeping parents and dead children covered in dust from the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
On the other side, the flurry of festivals, announcements and events that has marked Prince Mohammed’s rule has moved ahead at full speed.
Last weekend, models with bare shoulders and slicked-back hair strutted the runway at the inaugural Riyadh Fashion Week. And between visits from foreign officials keen to discuss the war, Prince Mohammed juggled his typically manic schedule.
On Monday, at an event attended by FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, and the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, Prince Mohammed announced that the kingdom would create a new “Esports World Cup.”