What Was That Glowing Orb Trump Touched in Saudi Arabia
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
May 22, 2017
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A mysterious glowing orb is exerting uncanny power over the world’s social media.
President Trump, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt entered a darkened room filled with row after row of computers in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Sunday evening.
They placed their hands atop a radiant whitish sphere, which illuminated their faces like a campfire, and kept them there for nearly two minutes. The first lady, Melania Trump, who also briefly touched the object, looked on.
As images of the orb circulated on social media, Twitter users immediately took notice. They offered multiple interpretations of the sphere and of the triumvirate of world leaders bathed in its light.
The orb’s segmented pedestal, which looked as if it might have come from the bridge of a science-fiction starship, added to the mystery. And an illuminated floor, not directly visible in the most widely circulated images, intensified the dramatic underlighting.
Critics of Mr. Trump, some of whom seem eager to see something nefarious in anything he does, appeared especially agitated. Some projected onto the images their dismay about Mr. Trump’s playing down of human rights and about the authoritarian Egyptian and Saudi governments. Bill Kristol, a prominent conservative critic of Mr. Trump, likened the group to the conclave of witches in “Macbeth.”
Breitbart, the far-right news website that has been a champion of Mr. Trump’s campaign and his presidency, took notice as well, juxtaposing an image of the leaders with a clip showing George Lucas, the “Star Wars” creator, saying, “I may have gone too far in a few places.”
The real meaning of the sphere had little to do with the occult.
The occasion was the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, based in Riyadh, and the orb was in fact a translucent globe, with the world’s waters represented in light gray and the continents in black. Its purpose appeared to be decorative.
The futuristic look of the darkened room may have helped to fire observers’ imaginations.
It was filled with computer terminals. At one end was a wall of monitors displaying feeds from news networks. Employees of the center were segregated by gender, as is common in Saudi Arabia.
The design felt to a pool reporter who was present like a hybrid of a game-show set and a television thriller’s idea of a counterterrorism operations control room.
Among the many dignitaries at the event were Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef.
The globe did not appear to have any magical powers, but when the king and Mr. Trump touched it, background music of the kind that might accompany a reality show’s elimination sequence or introduce a cable news program soared and pulsed. The screens glowed with statistical displays and videos about fighting terrorism. An unnamed official who narrated the features of the new control center said the displays used artificial intelligence to track, in real time, news reports and online statements.
“This groundbreaking new center represents a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combating radicalization, and I want to express our gratitude to King Salman for this strong demonstration of leadership,” Mr. Trump said in his prepared remarks.
On Monday, Mr. Trump, who is making his first foreign trip as president, moved on to Israel.