Great Britain

Bezos learns the harsh lesson of texting a crown prince fond of crucifixions | Marina Hyde

Though my tears have yet to liquefy at news that Amazon’s boss, Jeff Bezos, was phone-hacked, there’s a certain dramatic irony to the idea of an accidental circular firing squad among the tech gods. In Norse mythology, a lot of the deities end up doing for each other, so there is vague precedent to Apple’s iPhone or whatever being Bezos’s achilles heel. It’s like an Elon Musk rocket containing the Google boss exploding on the launch pad, or Mark Zuckerberg getting brained by an Amazon drone.

Of course, what elevates the story of how Bezos’s underpanted selfies may have made their way into the public domain is the identity of the hacker, which the Guardian this week suggested was probably none other than Saudi bear and human lumberjacker Mohammed bin Salman. From here on in, we will refer to the crown prince by his desired nickname “MBS”, which he has no idea sounds like a discount carpet warehouse on the ringroad, or the name slapped on the off-brand trainers your mum picked up at the supermarket, which she insists are exactly the same as the Nikes except for a couple of tiny bits that no one’s going to notice.

In fairness, a lot of people took quite a long time to notice a couple of tiny bits about MBS. During his high-profile 2018 visit to the US, the crown prince was feted by the great and not-good in Hollywood and beyond. Alas, the unfortunate dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist in one of his embassies a few months later did what no amount of reports of starved and bombed Yemeni kids could.

So now the entertainment barons at least know not to say in public that they’d detonate the village themselves if it meant they could open a multiplex in Jeddah. In private, naturally, all systems remain go for their expansion into the country. If called on the morality of it, the likes of Disney’s Bob Iger would doubtless fall back on the transformative power of art, suggesting the best defence against the brutal Saudi airstrikes on civilian Yemen, which resumed this week, are the potential Riyadh box office receipts for Trolls 2: Trolls World Tour. Experience magic this March.

Meanwhile, a lot of headline writers seem to be a few crucial episodes behind on the broader Saudi Arabia story. This week, one thundered that MBS had “TAUNTED JEFF BEZOS WITH A SEXIST MEME”. Well, I do think poorly of him now. Where does he stand on how problematic Friends was?

Before we go on, let me acknowledge that the Saudi regime is, in one of its hilarious fits of morality, calling the Bezos allegations “absurd”, and claiming to want an investigation. Maybe it could get Inspector “nothing to see here” Hathaway to do it? Either way, you can see the worry for MBS. He’s long ago squared off the Yemen atrocities with the international community. But if he’s named in a phone-hacking case, he might end up having to present a UK breakfast show. He’s probably chauvinist enough, but viewers may grow frustrated by his habit of cutting up guests mid-sentence. On the plus side, the programme just became a sponsorship target for Black & Decker.

Anyway. It was during the 2018 US visit that MBS seems to have got Bezos’s number, among those of other power players, and the pair inevitably struck up a bro-to-bro WhatsApp chat. The Hollywood visit itself was a very grand affair, with the crown prince, his entourage and his entourage’s entourages taking over the whole of the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. Here he hosted a summit on “The future of entertainment in Saudi Arabia”.

It’s great to see the kingdom pondering these creative questions. Although Saudi Arabia is already the genre leader in the public crucifixion space, they may well want to expand their serial output, perhaps bringing the same characters back for floggings every week, or finding a way to vertically integrate their beheading content. Certainly the kingdom seemed an attractive market to the likes of the Marvel Experience CEO, who turned up at the conference carrying Thor’s prop hammer – a weapon that seems impressive but ultimately loses in a game of rock, hammer, bonesaw.

Speaking of rocks, one guest at a Rupert Murdoch-hosted dinner for MBS during his stay saw The Rock bond with MBS. According to what he stated at the time, The Rock was humbled to be told he had so many young fans in Saudi Arabia. “I look forward to my first visit soon to Saudi Arabia,” he posted. “I’ll be sure to bring my finest tequila to share with his Royal Highness and family.” Well then. Pretty sure the last thing someone this intelligent and well informed about Saudi culture would do is click on any link sent to them by their new buddy, so The Rock can be entirely satisfied his roid bill and text-fights with Vin Diesel are not currently in the hands of a Saudi official with a nickname like the Disseminator.

Even for the technologically naive among us, though, there are comically inept elements to the MBS/Bezos story. Not only was Bezos briefed on his phone about the phone hacking, but – in a development arguably linked to the latter – he then received a message on said phone from MBS saying: “Jeff all what you hear or told to it’s not true”. So yes, the Saudi mind trick needs a little more work before it equals the Jedi version.

Furthermore, in the looking-glass dynamics of the modern world, leaders who are compulsive weapons shoppers probably can’t afford to piss off the Omnicorporation. Like many other self-regarding self-styled liberals, MBS may try to resort to Amazon purchases as little as possible. But Bezos is hugely bullish about doing business with the US military and beyond. Sooner or later the only place laser-guided bombs or whatever are going to retail is on Amazon. Customers who bought this item also liked missile launchers and warplanes.

Incidentally, even now you have to think MBS’s choice of weapon isn’t exactly the seal of approval for British export prestige. We spend years building him £125m-a-pop artisan death machines, and he’s still given the royal warrant to a £250 burner assembled by a Chinese teenager. This is arguably an ominous development for the UK arms industry. Now that the long-term government programme encouraging former miners to retrain as heroin addicts is complete, they might easily begin the process of repurposing armaments workers as dick pic miners. Or as Boris Johnson would cast it: unleashing the potential of the digital economy.

Speaking of Johnson, before we wind up, I imagine he’s been sleeping the sleep of Boris Johnson since he heard the Bezos-hacking news. The prime minister was seen with a Huawei phone during the election campaign, despite warning of security concerns about the firm only a day earlier. So it’s not the most enormous surprise to read reports this week claiming he too communicated with MBS via WhatsApp. Still, what’s the worst that could happen? As MBS purred around the time of his Hollywood holibobs: “People in the UK and Saudi Arabia … are much safer if the two countries have a close relationship.”

Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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