Amazon. AMZN 1.55% com said it is hiring 1,500 people in Saudi Arabia this year, becoming the latest tech giant to beef up inside the kingdom as pandemic-fed demand for online services rises in the Arab world’s largest economy.
The hiring is a small move for a company with over a million permanent employees around the world. Still, it comes as other tech companies deepen their footprint in the kingdom, which has had a mixed record luring foreign partners to help it wean its economy off oil.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google and China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. have recently announced partnerships with Saudi state-owned companies to host cloud centers. Huawei Technologies Co. has said it would open its largest flagship store outside China in Riyadh.
Amazon’s modest bet is also notable coming after a feud between Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spilled into public in recent years. Critical columns written by Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Washington Post, which Mr. Bezos bought in 2013 as a personal investment, sowed frustration in Riyadh.
Mr. Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives in 2018. The U.S. last month declassified a report that accused the prince of approving the killing. Prince Mohammed has said he took responsibility for the killing because it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it.
In 2019, Mr. Bezos suggested a possible Saudi government link to a leak of embarrassing personal photos, an allegation Saudi Arabia has denied. The Wall Street Journal reported the brother-in-law of Mr. Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez leaked the photos. Mr. Sanchez has denied that.
This year Mr. Bezos said he would step down as CEO later this year but stay on at Amazon as executive chairman.
In 2018, before the murder, Amazon was in talks to build data centers in Saudi Arabia that would have given Amazon more access to the Middle Eastern market and aided the prince’s efforts to cultivate new, non-oil industries. The plan hasn’t yet moved forward.
The Khashoggi murder sparked intense international criticism of Saudi Arabia and prompted many businesses to cut ties for a time. Now, some Western firms are starting to consider investing again.
Tech companies, in particular, are returning, said Sam Blatteis, who previously led Google’s government relations in the Persian Gulf region. “The virus is moving tech from the periphery to center stage” of the kingdom’s business-transformation plans, said Mr. Blatteis, who now runs MENA Catalysts, a consulting firm advising foreign companies.
The closure of many malls and shops and the need to stay at home has driven e-commerce sales of basic items such as food and increased the consumption of online entertainment. Warner Music Group Corp. has agreed to buy a stake in Saudi-owned Rotana Music to take advantage of the region’s demographics, the companies said last month.
Amazon didn’t provide financial details of its expansion when it announced the new jobs on Wednesday. It said it was bolstering its fulfillment network’s storage capacity and increasing its delivery network area.
“These new investments reiterate our commitment to Saudi Arabia, contributing to the local economy through the creation of new job opportunities.” said Prashant Saran, Amazon’s operations director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Our investments in technology and infrastructure align with Saudi’s digital transformation goals.”
Amazon launched its Prime service in Saudi Arabia in January. Last June it rebranded Souq.com, a regional competitor it acquired in 2017, as Amazon.sa. The company didn’t immediately comment further on its Saudi business. Mr. Bezos didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia combines a large revenue base as the world’s largest oil exporter with a young population of nearly 35 million. Almost three-quarters of Saudis are connected to social media—higher than rates in the U.S. and China, according to German online database Statista. That has revived appetite from big technology companies who had often shunned the kingdom following an international outcry over Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.
In January, Saudi Arabia said Chinese smartphones company Huawei had agreed to open its largest flagship store outside China, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. And in late December, Google signed up to host cloud centers with state-run oil monopoly Saudi Arabian Oil Co., days before Alibaba joined for the same service with government-owned Saudi Telecom Co., or STC. South Korea’s electronic giant Samsung has set up a data-focused training center in collaboration with the crown prince’s personal foundation, Misk.
Write to Benoit Faucon at email@example.com and Stephen Kalin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8