Saudi laundering operation in full swing near Ground Zero
Controversy over the new Saudi-backed golf league came to a head last week as it staged a tournament hosted by Donald Trump at its namesake course in New Jersey.
But aside from flattering coverage by the fashion press, little attention has been paid to a fashion show on Manhattan’s W. 23rd Street that is another facet of an ongoing Saudi effort to portray itself as modern and progressive.
“SAUDI HERITAGE; PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE FASHION EXHIBITION,” reads the hand bill handed out by a well-groomed young American at the entrance.
For Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, the Saudi past dates back two decades to 9/11. The entrance to another exhibit, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, just over two miles south of the current fashion show, features photos of the 19 hijackers, 17 of whom were Saudi, as does the Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. An FBI report released earlier this year found that “there is a 50/50 chance” that a Saudi intelligence agent named Omar al-Bayoumi “had advance knowledge that the 9/11 terrorist attacks September were to happen”. The report says that at the time of the attack, al-Bayoumi was paid by Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. A still unanswered question is whether Bandar knew that al-Bayoumi provided logistical support for the first two hijackers to arrive in America in 2000.
The more recent Saudi past is reflected in another report, that of the US Director of National Intelligence regarding the death and dismemberment by bone saw of Washington Postcolumnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
“We estimate that Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the February 2021 report summary states. “We base this assessment on the crown prince’s control over decision-making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protection group in the operation, and the crown prince’s support for the use of violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.
The summary adds: “As of 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control over the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”
With the entire kingdom currently under his control, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is heading towards a future described on an official government website, “Saudi Vision 2030”.
“A roadmap drawn up by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, to harness the strengths God has bestowed on us – our strategic position, our investment power and our place at the center of the Arab and Islamic worlds,” the site says. “The full focus of the Kingdom and our leaders is on harnessing our potential to achieve our ambitions.”
He continues: “Since the launch of the vision, we have built a foundation, during which unprecedented reforms have been made to the operating model of the public sector, to the economy and to society as a whole. This laid the foundation for success for the future.
The reforms included a moderate relaxation of restrictions on what women can wear in public. There has also been a modest expansion of the roles they can take on in the workplace. A notable example was the 2019 appointment of the first woman to serve as a foreign envoy. Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud was named Saudi Ambassador to the United States in February 2019. Her father was in the same position at the time of 9/11, and her appointment could be seen as a way to tell Americans who called the accomplices be held responsible for the attack to piss off. Perhaps it was also simple indifference.
The timing of the appointment suggests another message, coming as it did five months after the Khashoggi massacre at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. The use of a bone saw on an ultimately harmless critic may have led many to view MBS as a murderous barbarian, but there was also this historic first for Saudi women. And with his Vision 2030, MBS said there would be more firsts and big things to come.
On July 26, the Saudi Fashion Commission, under the auspices of the Saudi Ministry of Culture, inaugurated the Saudi 100 Brands NYC fashion exhibition, bringing together 1,500 Saudi designers. Ambassador Princess Reema, a figure linked to the Saudi past, present and future, delivered a speech at the opening of the 12-day show.
“The collections you see here are inspired by Arabia, but made for the world,” Reema said. “Creativity is not born in one country. Culture is not defined by a border. And what you are about to see is a symbol that has nothing to do with politics, has nothing to do with governments, but has everything to do with the human spirit.
Late Friday morning, West 23rd Street was teeming with New Yorkers and tourists, but they walked past the young man with a pile of flyers in front of the Saudi fashion show. Besides the staff, only three people were inside, including a journalist who put on a mask when entering.
“Masks are optional,” said a security guard at the entrance.
Neither the guard nor the two women at the check-in counter were wearing face coverings. But the whole exhibition seemed to be just another huge cover-up. Or maybe the show was best viewed as a golden bone saw; finery enhanced by a barbarian murderer. There are dazzling variations on traditional abayas, the ones a woman might want even if the religious police have stopped forcing them to wear dress-like dresses. The first section of the show has “MODEST” stenciled on the wall in big black letters. Models throughout the exhibit have no facial features, so veils are not an issue.
The parade also features men’s clothing, including a stylish outfit from a fashion line called JINA led by a woman, Princess Noura bint Talal Al Saud. An explanatory note states that the piece was inspired by what is “typically worn during the ‘Majdi Ardha’, the dance of war and victory”.
Some of those who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center or nearly killed themselves believe that more than 17 Saudis sought to dance the Majdi Ardha on that horrible Tuesday morning 20 years ago that we pledged to never forget. Those who want to hold the Saudis to account include members of the 9/11 Justice group, which gathered Friday morning outside a public library near the Trump Golf Club which hosts the Saudi-backed LIV tournament. They had gathered some distance from the club’s main gate to make it clear they were not there so much to protest as to speak the truth about the Saudi “sportwash” effort and those taking part in it.
The third of the four speakers was Juliette Scauso. She was 4 years old when her father, firefighter Dennis Scauso, became one of 19 men from his hazmat unit who died at the World Trade Center. She is now 25 and a medical student.
“How much money does it take to turn your back on your country, on the American people?” she asked. “The 9/11 families would give any amount of money to see our loved ones again, just to have one last hug, a chat, another round of golf.”
The murdered firefighter’s daughter was unaware of the Saudi fashion show until a Daily Beast reporter told her about it on Saturday.
“I had no idea,” she said. “But, I know in general that [the Saudis] try to change their image. And honestly, they shouldn’t be allowed to operate on our soil with impunity until we get accountability and justice.
She spoke of ongoing Saudi efforts to use their vast wealth to evade accountability.
“It’s just kind of shocking and it’s annoying,” she said. “It’s been 20 years… And we’re still fighting. “
The fashion show ends on August 7. The Saudis will continue the golf league and other efforts to brown the bone and trick us into forgetting what we should never.
Anyone who wants New York fashion should try getting a T-shirt made by someone from Scauso’s band. It reads:
“9/11 has no expiration date”