What they said: silence says a lot in the Saudi forum

RIAD: The third annual Saudi investment conference in Riyadh has attracted thousands of delegates, in a sign that Saudi Arabia is emerging from the shadow of the critic Jamal Khashoggi's murder last October.

Here is a selection of quotes from the last day of the meeting, attended by Wall Street titans and heads of state:

Most notable on the last day of the Future Investment Initiative was what was not said.

The event is a creation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but for the first time in his three years of history he did not address the meeting.

Until the last minutes of the conference, the organizers hinted that the young leader, who once took the same stage to attack extremism and promise openness, would make an appearance.

While journalists waited, government television was broadcast live, which increased the possibility of a late arrival. But the doors closed without a speech from the de facto ruler.

In 2017, the Saudi strongman used the forum to declare a new future for the conservative kingdom and connected the launch of a new megacity of $ 500 billion (450 billion euros) along the Red Sea coast.

A year later, he reported on stage the repulsive murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which took place at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

He promised that justice would prevail, in his first public comments on a case that seriously damaged his image as a reformer.

Former prime ministers were in abundance in the final session of the conference. David Cameron from Britain sat with Australians Kevin Rudd and Matteo Renzi from Italy.

I regret not meeting each other, I had just lost the elections, Rudd joked when Renzi mentioned that he had attended his first G20 summit in Australia in 2014.

I lost later, don't worry, Renzi responded, referring to his resignation in 2016 after a resounding defeat in a referendum to change the constitution.

And we can't argue ... referendums because I and David hate referendums, the Italian politician said to the audience's laughter.

Cameron himself resigned after the surprising result of leaving the British referendum on membership in the EU; he had campaigned to stay, but the public backed the game.

When the forum opened on Tuesday, Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman laughed when he said he was not going to talk about the impending stock market debut of state oil giant Aramco, the most profitable company of the world.

I hate to disappoint the media. I'm not going to talk about OPEC ... and I'm not going to talk about OPI (Aramco), he said.

But it seems I wasn't kidding. Despite the gigantic initial public offering that dominated Saudi economic news for months, the issue was barely mentioned in Riyadh this week and was not the subject of any of the many sessions held during the three days.

However, the presence of many of the world's leading bankers hinted backstage discussions about the possible unexpected gain of what would be the largest stock market price in history.

Aramco was expected to launch the first part of a two-stage IPO in early October, but the process has been delayed, according to reports, due to the dissatisfaction of the crown prince with the valuation of the company, which was expected to reach $ 2 billion.

The public offering will now take place on December 11 at the Riyadh stock market, Saudi television Al-Arabiya said.

Saudi Arabia It has the largest economy in the Middle East and is the world's leading oil producer, but craves credibility on the world stage, as it rehabilitates its image after Khashoggi's murder undermined his diplomatic alliances.

When the investment summit was closed, the kingdom was looking towards 2020 when it will be the host of the G20, the largest event it has ever held and the first to be held in an Arab country.

Riyadh wants to focus on developing countries and how to help them and how to boost the goals of sustainable development, said State Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.

"In the case of Saudi Arabia I believe that one of the most important issues is to deal with empowering women and youth."

The crown prince has embarked on a series of historical changes that include allowing women to drive, but other restrictive policies remain in force and critics who press for faster social change have ended up in jail.

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