Timing is everything, in business as it is in politics. The Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry waited until there was a groundswell of protest against its reception of a Russian business delegation, before canceling the visit. The impact of this snub to the Kremlin and its outrageous support for the Assad regime in Syria, could not have been better calculated.
However, it has been suggested that without over 10,000 messages being posted on Twitter, condemning the idea of the Chamber extending any welcome to the Russian businessmen, the organization might not have withdrawn its invitation.
There are in fact two very reasonable arguments to be made for having kept to the original program. The first is that business is business. All societies increase their prosperity through trade. Armed conflicts and political confrontations, not only interrupt business but they also destroy value for everyone, except armaments manufacturers and coffin makers.
The second argument applies more to business delegations from countries such as Russia where the state still wields considerable influence over all aspects of life. It is that had the delegation been welcomed after all, it would almost certainly have been possible to send its members home, with no doubts whatsoever, about the immense groundswell of disgust that all Saudis feel at the barbarous conduct of the Assad regime toward its own people.
This message, given in private by members of the Riyadh Chamber, would have been almost certain to have made its way inside the Kremlin.
However, to have waited until the Russians were being received, before delivering a trenchant public attack on their government’s Syrian policy would have been unthinkably rude and go against every principle of hospitality that we have always insisted that we owe our guests.
Therefore, the cancelation, at the peak of a wave of popular protest, was the most effective action to take. It must be hoped that members of the Russian delegation, who would have come here intent on business rather than politics, will appreciate why this action has been taken. It is more than likely indeed, that some of them are not only appalled at what their country’s long-time Middle East ally is doing, but that they also feel privately, a deep sense of shame that their own leaders still refuse to repudiate Assad and his murderous regime.Nevertheless, every good businessman lives with risk as part of his or her working life. Political risk is just one of many to be considered. It is very rare that any deal anywhere goes smoothly. The ability to cope with changes and setbacks is built into the DNA of every successful executive. Thus Russian and Saudi businessmen, who were perhaps expecting to advance or even clinch a contract during the Riyadh Chamber visit, will almost certainly be continuing their negotiations anyway. On the basis that a deal is worth doing for both sides, it is probably going to get signed at some point, to the benefit of the wider society of both countries. If only political conflicts could be settled through the same negotiating process.