Giuliani Photo Vanishes From Site for Saudi-Funded Parley
by Adam Daifallah
WASHINGTON - Mayor Giuliani's photo has suddenly and without explanation been removed from a Web site promoting a symposium being sponsored by AOL Time Warner and a Saudi Arabian think tank funded in part by Osama bin Laden's estranged brother.
Early Friday, Mr. Giuliani's face, along with that of new Citicorp executive Sallie Krawcheck, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and other political and business figures appeared on the Web site promoting Fortune magazine's Global Forum conference, to be held November 11 to 13 in Washington. After The New York Sun called Mr. Giuliani's office to ask about the conference, his photo disappeared from the portion of the Web site devoted to the Arab symposium, although his face still appears on the pages promoting the rest of the symposium. A spokeswoman for Mr. Giuliani declined to comment and conference organizers did not return phone calls.
A special one-day symposium is planned for the conference November 11, cosponsored by the Arab Thought Foundation, a new charity apparently aimed at improving the public image of Saudi Arabia. The charity, based in Syrian-occupied Lebanon, is funded with at least $17 million. According to the Saudi Arabian government, the money comes from members of the Saudi royal family and other wealthy businessmen in the kingdom, including $1.5 million from Bakr bin Laden, the man who controls the bin Laden family's substantial business interests.
The flap over the upcoming conference illustrates the difficulties Saudi Arabia faces as it tries to repair its image in America, which was badly damaged as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As has previously been reported elsewhere, the kingdom is paying the Washington-based communications firm Qorvis $200,000 a month for a public relations campaign, including television ads portraying Saudi Arabia as a friend of America. The Arab Thought Foundation and its plans for a Washington conference, however, have so far attracted little Western press attention.
Saudi Arabia's public relations efforts only go so far, analysts say, because of the underlying differences in values between Saudi Arabia - a kingdom that is openly paying $5,000 to the families of suicide bombers targeting Israeli civilians, a kingdom that was the home of 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers - and America.
That hasn't stopped the Saudis from trying - with the assistance, in this case, of Fortune magazine, a New York-based business magazine that is a unit of AOL Time Warner. Every year Fortune sponsors a global business conference; last year it was in Hong Kong and featured keynote speeches by President Clinton and Chinese president Jiang Zemin. This year, however, is the first time that there will be a special symposium on "The Arab Countries: Issues, Answers and Opportunities."
The director of the Saudi Institute, an independent watchdog group based in Washington, Ali Al-Ahmed, said the Arab Thought Foundation does not represent Arab thought at all.
"It represents a narrow element in the Arab world that is under the control of the same oppressive regimes that we abhor. What do you expect from an organization that is under the control of an absolute monarchy? Freedom of thought? No. This is basically a vehicle to shield the Arab regimes from criticism," Mr. Al-Ahmed said.
A consultant on Saudi Arabia, Simon Henderson, said he is in favor of improved relations between American and the kingdom, "but that should come through greater openness and greater clarity rather than PR campaigns."
Mr. Henderson said he was "surprised" that Fortune is having the meeting, "which might appear to be part of a Saudi PR campaign."
The former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak of Israel's Labor Party, is listed as an "invited" speaker. No speakers from the Israeli government are scheduled to take part, perhaps because the Arabs refuse to meet with Israeli government representatives. A spokeswoman at the Israeli embassy in Washington said she was not aware of the event.
The author of a new book, "The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror," Stephen Schwartz, said the foundation "is not a neutral institution, it exists to advance the interests of the Saudi ruling class and the Saudi elite."
"It is not a grant-making, social science institute...the U.S. should be asking hard questions of the Saudis, not papering over the differences," Mr. Schwartz, who is also policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said. "It would be marvelous if the Fortune people and the Arab Thought Foundation made a demand of the Saudi government to make a full, transparent accounting of Saudi involvement and Wahhabi extremism in 9/11."
Opening the Arab symposium are the editorial director of Fortune, Geoffrey Colvin, and Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, the grandson of the late Saudi King Faisal and the son of Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the governor of Saudi Arabia's Asir region - an area where the most fundamentalist sect of Islam, Wahhabism, runs rampant and where a majority of the September 11 highjackers hail from. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal is the chairman of the Arab Thought Foundation.
Prince Khalid Al-Faisal said that the Arab Thought Foundation will offer an independent forum for intellectuals, women and members of the business community to freely discuss religious, economic, cultural and other issues, the Associated Press has reported. The New York Sun called the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington Friday, but a receptionist said no one was avail able to comment.
Also scheduled to take part in the Washington Conference is the editor in chief of Arab News, Khaled Al-Maeena. Arab News is the English-language Saudi newspaper that has recently published articles referring to the "subhuman Zionist lobby" and reporting straightforwardly a claim that "Yankee Jew media dominance threatens the lives of U.S. citizens." A September 21 cartoon in the paper portrays President Bush morphing into Adolf Hitler. Mr. Al-Maeena is identified on the symposium program as a member of the Arab Thought Foundation.
Mr. Al-Maeena is scheduled to speak on "Challenges of Interdependence: The Arab-USA Defense Cooperation.
A woman who says her Saudi ex-husband abducted her two daughters and that they are now being held against their will in Saudi Arabia, Pat Roush, was critical of the symposium as well.
"I would hope that these very same American public relations firms and lobbyists that are organizing this type of publicity campaign or 'symposium' for the Saudi Arabian government in hopes of getting the support of the Fortune 500 companies would have a conscience when it comes to American women and children that the Saudis are holding against their will in the kingdom," Ms. Roush told the Sun. "If the Saudis really want to redeem themselves in the eyes of the American people, not only the money mongers and State Department puppets that are attending this conference, they should free our people and allow them to come home to their American families."
Mr. Spitzer, Ms. Krawcheck and Mr. Rumsfeld are apparently appearing at the main part of the conference, not the Arab symposium, but their images and names are being used to promote it on the Web, as was Mr. Giuliani's until the Sun inquired about it.
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