The Arabia Foundation was a pro-Saudi think tank in Washington, known for communicating on issues important to the Kingdom to the American audience and their representatives. It abruptly closed this week, leading to speculation as to why.
Ali Shihabi, who opened the entity two years ago, said in a tweet the immediate closure was “due to ongoing differences among our donors that made continued operations difficult.”
Newsmax reported the foundation’s closure comes amid increased criticism of Saudi Arabia’s influence on U.S. policies after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
However, concurrent to Arabia ceasing operations is a lawsuit filed by Ola Salem by her attorneys, Gerstman Schwartz LLP, alleging sexual harassment and other types of abuse while she was employed by Mr. Shihabi.
The lawsuit alleges slander and defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional emotional distress, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and more. Salem even alleges she was prevented from gaining employment after leaving Arabia.
The complaint reads: He [Ali Shihabi] also berated and demeaned her in public and was mentally abusive on a daily basis. Among offensive comments he made were “If you don’t do a good job for this event I’ll behead you” He also shouted at her in front of colleagues and at an event treated her like a waitress bellowing “why are peoples cups half empty.” On another occasion he critiqued female employees attire stating such was “ugly” and What is she wearing” and yelled at the Plaintiff telling her you should make sure that she wears more attractive attire. Most egregiously he asked things like “Come over here – I didn’t get my morning kiss today”.”
We spoke to David Schwartz, the attorney of record for the lawsuit, and asked about Arabia’s closure and he declared, “We are still seeking justice for Ola Salem against Ali Shihabi and the foundation. Our quest for justice will not change just because they are closing their doors, for wrongful conduct against both defendants.”
Schwartz also alleges Arabia Foundation was funded by the Saudi government, which was denied to Salem at the time of her employment.
Regarding Saudi Arabian actions in Washington, Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed of the Gulf Institute has previously stated, “So, really, here you see a contradiction of the — what we know as American values, is that the Saudis have been able to buy their way by giving money to a lot of politicians, to their foundations, like the Clinton Foundation, the Carter foundation, and shaping their opinion. And, unfortunately, because in America politics works on money, the Saudi monarchy has really broken that code and understood how to use it.”
The closure comes at an interesting time for Saudi-American relations as the Trump administration has pursued closer relations with the Kingdom in a bid to counter Iran, which it sees as the main threat to American interests in the region. Congress recently attempted to cease weapon sales to Saudi with legislation but President Trump is sure to veto the measure. The situation seems to be a real-life example of the choice between realpolitik and moral lecturing for American policy makers.