Elon Musk faces off with Saudi Prince Talal over Twitter sale

The Tesla owner has questioned Saudi Arabia’s role in the tech company after the prince ‘rejects’ the proposed deal.

Elon Musk smiles from behind a microphone while holding his mobile phone near his chest.
Elon Musk has offered to buy Twitter [File: John Raoux/AP Photo]

Elon Musk has questioned Saudi Arabia’s role in Twitter Inc after Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal tweeted his opposition to the billionaire entrepreneur’s offer to buy the social media company.

The prince tweeted on Thursday from his verified account that Musk’s offer of a $43bn cash takeover of the company does not come close to the “intrinsic value” of Twitter.

“Being one of the largest & long-term shareholders of Twitter, @Kingdom_KHC & I reject this offer,” the prince said, referring to the Saudi Arabia-based Kingdom Holding Company, which he owns.

The prince also shared a 2015 tweet, in which he wrote that his company’s ownership stake in Twitter had risen to 5.2 percent.

Musk, who owns 9.2 percent of Twitter, responded to the tweet, asking how much of Twitter, directly and indirectly, was owned by Saudi Arabia.

“What are the Kingdom’s views on journalistic freedom of speech?” Musk added.

The tech billionaire has said he wants to take Twitter private to help it grow and to make it a platform for free speech.

Twitter users and human rights activists were quick to latch on to the billionaire’s questions, with the United States-based Freedom Initiative highlighting the story of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Saudi court over his tweets.

“Freedom of speech in the Kingdom? Here’s what happens to young aid workers in Saudi Arabia when they make satirical Twitter accounts,” the group wrote.

As of January, Saudi Arabia, with a population of 34.8 million, had the eighth most Twitter users of any country in the world, with more than 12 million users.

However, Saudi Arabia does not permit independent media, is regularly accused of crackdowns on dissent, and allegedly closely monitors Saudi journalists who live abroad, with US intelligence directly linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

In 2019, the US Justice Department charged two former Twitter employees with using their roles at the company to obtain information on US citizens and Saudi dissidents who were critical of the kingdom’s policies.

On Thursday, Musk responded to a tweet with a link to a New York Times report on those arrests, tweeting a monocle emoji.

‘Disturbing to think’

For his part, Musk’s bid to buy Twitter has sparked concerns over how he would transform the company, particularly when it comes to what many consider to be important safeguards to combat misinformation that have been implemented on the platform.

Musk has been among the most vocal opponents of what critics call censorship on the site.

“Disturbing to think that a Saudi Prince and Elon Musk are basically the two people determining the future of a global communications platform,” Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, wrote on Twitter.

On Thursday, Twitter said it would “carefully review the proposal to determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interest of the company and all Twitter stockholders”.

Musk, who is worth about $273.6bn, according to a Forbes tally, had previously rejected an offer to join Twitter’s board on Saturday after disclosing his stake, a move analysts said signalled his takeover intentions as a board seat would have limited his shareholding to just below 15 percent.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies