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Cup of coffee in the big time’s biggest stories of 2018: WWE Crown Jewel

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Vigil for Khashoggi at Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Christmas is over and 2018 is in its final days.

While there were some intriguing WWE TV shows this week, I’m choosing instead to spend the next few days looking back at some of the big stories of the year and what it could mean in the next year.

While Greatest Royal Rumble was offensive in its unabashed propaganda approach to a Saudi government which may have been making small strides in progressiveness, but was still largely repressive — jailing and executing activists and criminalizing minorities — it flew largely under the radar of the world at large.

WWE Crown Jewel came along at a critical moment in world politics, with Jordan accusing a team of Saudi Arabian agents of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

We’re now months removed from the murder, but headlines such as “Jamal Khashoggi ‘offered tea moments before being drugged and dismembered’ in Saudi embassy” continue to trickle out as details are made more immediately available.

WWE had previously struck a 10-year deal to hold massive events in Saudi Arabia as part of the crown prince’s Vision 2030 plan, aimed at modernizing the country’s image and diversifying its income streams.

As written in Vice:

The effort was dubbed Vision 2030 and the Western press ate it up. Wet gasbag Thomas Friedman, whose most celebrated line will be about how the world is flat when it should be that time when he told Arabs to “suck on this,” dropped an embarrassing hagiography of bin Salman in the New York Times. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NPR, everyone ate it up in a unified voice of affirmation we don’t usually get outside of major wars.

There was just one problem: it was mostly false. The war in Yemen, a truly monstrous, one-sided conflict led by the Saudis against their poorer neighbor, raged on and intensified. Women could drive, but the activists who got them there sure did remain in prison. Qatar was isolated, blockaded, and threatened with the building of a canal to physically isolate the state from the mainland. The Saudis kept crucifying people and threatened Canada with a second 9/11. If you’re a fan of the most meager of incremental progress, you probably love this—hence Friedman’s obsequiousness, as a man who loves to trumpet baby steps as giant leaps. If you hope for a little more, especially in light of just how terrible Saudi Arabia is for at least half its population, this was thin gruel.

Amid uncertainty over whether WWE should hold an event which primarily serves as propaganda for a government under scrutiny for murdering a journalist, the situation gained more and more national attention.

HBO’s Last Week Tonight ran two separate segments on WWE’s relationship with the Saudi government and seemingly every online outlet was publishing stories hitting the McMahons as other businesses pulled out of Saudi dealings and U.S. government officials pressured Donald Trump to stop arms sales to the country.

WWE continued promoting Crown Jewel on TV, but stopped all references to Saudi Arabia in doing so — something that continued even during the actual show, which did go on as planned and featured the in-ring return of Shawn Michaels. Oh, and Hulk Hogan was there too, acting as a non-promoted “host” of the event — not promoted because the world may still not be comfortable embracing a man who used the n-word while calling himself a racist.

All in all, the situation was a disaster. WWE, which loves its officials to make the rounds promoting their charitable efforts (of which there are many), was tied for weeks of press to a regime which had murdered a journalist.

But, as most things do, it blew over and WWE just moved right along to promoting their next events and the mainstream media went back to ignoring our brightly colored, cartoon violence-filed corner of the world.

For now.

This is, again, a 10-year deal. The Khashoggi murder remains in the press as more information is made available, with international reaction to every bit of said info.

2019 will bring with it more shows and more attention on WWE’s deal as part of Vision 2030.

What remains to be seen is if there’s a return to the Greatest Royal Rumble style propaganda, complete with Michael Cole gushing over all things Saudi and slickly produced videos showing a progressive nation, or the shameful hushed nature of Crown Jewel, where it’s hardly acknowledged the event is taking place anywhere at all.

Alright, 2018, you can be done now.