Ryad (AFP)

Senior US officials, foreign presidents and leaders of major international firms, Saudi Arabia launches Tuesday "Desert Davos" in great pomp, the opposite of the disappointing edition of 2018, marked by a boycott after the murder of the journalist dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

The authorities announced that more than 300 participants from 30 countries will attend the Future Investment Initiative (FII), a three-day annual event designed to make the country a vibrant and attractive economy for foreign investment.

The advisor and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, considered a close relative of the Crown Prince, is expected alongside US secretaries to the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, and Energy, Rick Perry, according to the website of the FII.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, King Abdullah II of Jordan and several African heads of state are also expected to speak at the event.

Participants include the CEOs of Blackstone Group and SoftBank Group, two leading asset management companies, as well as the chairmen of the sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Russia.

"This year's IFI is very different from last year, with the threat of sanctions hanging over Saudi Arabia because of its human rights record, which has led to boycotts. last year, is now over, "Ryan Bohl of AFP Stratfor said.

"Many officials this year have no qualms about getting closer to Saudi Arabia," he said.

Last year's edition was haunted by the assassination on October 2, 2018 of Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist and media figure, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that caused a global shock wave.

The case had considerably tarnished the image of reformist Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose responsibility was directly questioned by the United Nations, promoter of a Saudi Arabia open to the globalized economy.

- Eyes on Aramco -

But a year later, it is especially the highly anticipated and repeatedly postponed IPO of the public oil giant Aramco, which should receive all the attention.

The kingdom, the world's largest exporter of crude, plans to register up to 5% of the most profitable company in the world, which, according to analysts, could be worth between 1.500 and 2.000 billion dollars.

"Many international observers and most participants will pay more attention to Aramco's delayed IPO than to the consequences of Khashoggi," AFP professor Steffen Hertog told AFP. School of Economics.

The global fallout from Khashoggi's assassination tested the kingdom's traditional alliances with the Western powers and cast a shadow over the prince's ambitious reform program to wean the kingdom out of its dependence on oil.

The CIA would have concluded that the Crown Prince, de facto leader of the ultra-conservative country, probably ordered this horrific murder.

In an interview on US television, the subject said he agreed to take responsibility for this case, because it occurred "under (his) reign". He denied, however, that he had ordered the murder.

Some major international companies will seek to avoid any risk of bad reputation and thus avoid the pomp of the big conference FII, but will probably continue negotiations in the shadows, according to observers.

Following the scandal of the Khashoggi affair, the Saudi government has stepped up its policy of openness to culture and entertainment by hosting spectacular concerts by international stars, easing restrictions on women's rights and issuing for the first time tourist visas.

But Ryad is still struggling to attract the foreign investment it needs, especially since the crackdown in 2017, when the sumptuous Ritz-Carlton hotel, home to the IFI, has been turned into a five-star prison for hundreds of Saudi business leaders and some members of the royal family.

© 2019 AFP