RIYADH (Dispatches) – Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has come under flak over a sizable funding a Saudi Arabian prince allocated to the American social media platform as the ultra-conservative kingdom grapples with a stark track record of human rights abuse and repression.
The $44 billion deal was concluded after a months-long spat between Musk and the Twitter Company, with the 51-year-old billionaire swiftly dismissing its CEO and other top executives as part of “reforms” he had already promised the internet and social media users, among them the “prioritization of free speech”.
The purchase was, however, shrouded in controversy after Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said he and his Kingdom Holding Company had rolled over a combined $1.89 billion in existing Twitter shares, making them Twitter’s largest shareholder after Musk.
“The SpaceX founder relied on equity from other investors to carry out the deal. Alwaleed, a Saudi prince, and CEO of the Kingdom Holding company committed $1.89 billion—equating to nearly 35 million shares—in equity to help Musk purchase Twitter,” media reports underlined.
Musk’s reliance on Saudi Arabia drew harsh criticism over Riyadh’s stifling of free expression and human rights violations at home and aboard.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is accused of ordering the 2018 brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi royalty. Khashoggi was dismembered with a bone saw during a visit to the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Some critics were miffed at the purchase and voiced concerns about the possibility of promoting hate speech online, highlighting what they viewed as a dangerous hypocrisy in allowing Saudi royalty so much ownership of Twitter.
“There’s not been enough scrutiny of the fact that Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover has been propped up with cash from Qatar & Saudi Arabia,” tweeted Business Insider’s Ryan Gallagher. “Twitter was prev compromised by Saudi spies who used internal data to out dissidents & have them jailed. Surprising any new owner of Twitter - especially one professing to be a free-speech absolutist - would want Saudi influence anywhere near the platform.”
“The bird is free! The bird is free!” tweeted MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan in reference to Musk’s celebration of the purchase. Hasan, a critic of Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian regime, made the post as he retweeted the news about Alwaleed’s stake on Twitter.