The bid to host the Expo 2030 World Fair went to Saudi Arabia, run by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man who (according to the CIA) ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Kashoggi, and a friend (and generous employee) of Senator Renzi, who sang praises to the country under his rule being “the place of the new Renaissance,” and whom Prime Minister Meloni ironically asked in Parliament recently to ask the Saudi ruler to give us oil at a discount.
But looking at the facts, there isn’t much to laugh about: on Tuesday, at the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris, Riyadh got the necessary two-thirds of the votes to secure its bid, with 119 votes out of 182 voting countries. Busan, a city in South Korea, ranked second with 29 votes; Rome came in third with 17 votes. It was a resounding slap in the face, because many European countries did not vote for us either.
There were definitely some signs this was coming. At the end of September, Saudi Arabia paid handsomely to hire out the Casina Valadier and put on a lavish cultural festival right in the heart of Rome. It was noted that this event was scheduled right before the vote for Expo 2030. The Saudis were deft at using diplomacy and hard cash to get this event as well, together with the 2034 World Cup. And, as everyone knows, Riyadh has used public money (the Wahhabi kingdom’s bottomless coffers) to buy itself soccer stars and even the former coach of our national team, Mancini, who was seen parading in Riyadh brandishing the Saudi sword.
We’ve come a long way indeed from Mussolini brandishing the Sword of Islam in Libya: that one was kept as a prized heirloom, but today other things rule the world, not the rhetorical posturing of the 20th century.
In this moment of bitter disappointment, we’re suddenly turning up our noses at Saudi money (unlike when it brings in massive orders: see Leonardo). Ambassador Giampiero Massolo, chairman of the promoting committee for the Italian bid, reacted to the Paris snub in unprecedentedly frank words, accusing a “mercantile drift” and a “transactional, not transnational” way of doing things. He confessed that “until the end, neither we nor the Koreans were aware that there would be such numbers, so something must have happened in the final stretch.”
“I’m not criticizing,” he continued, “I’m not accusing, I don’t have evidence, but the mercantile drift is affecting governments, and even individuals sometimes. It’s dangerous: today the Expo, the World Cup before, then, who knows, the Olympics… I wouldn’t want it to get to the point of buying and selling seats on the UN Security Council, because if that’s the direction, I think Italy shouldn’t stand for it.”
Lofty words coming from Massolo, former secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former head of DIS and ISPI and president of Fincantieri and Atlantia. But none other than Fincantieri and Leonardo have been doing great business with Saudi Arabia after the arms embargo on Riyadh was cast aside. In such cases, we don’t object too much to Saudi money and the country’s $800 billion sovereign wealth fund.
The problem is that the world has changed and we’re pretending not to know it. The war in Gaza currently prevents Riyadh from joining in the Abrahamic Accord with the other Gulf monarchies, who are in business with Israel. But, as revealed at the G-20, the “India-Middle East-Europe Corridor” is planned, meant to compete with China’s Silk Road and the Suez Canal, with a rail network that will bring goods from Asia via the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to ports in Israel and Europe. As for us, we remain up for sale.