The Khashoggi Question
‘It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested. I said nothing. I didn’t want to lose my job or my freedom. I worried about my family.
‘I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice.’
- Jamal Khashoggi, Sept. 18, 2017
On Oct 2, Jamal entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never came out again. No conclusive evidence of his death has come out, but the Saudis have eventually admitted that the journalist had in fact died in the consulate after a fight. Turkish presidential advisor Yasin Aktay has said he believes Jamal Khashoggi's body was dissolved in acid after being cut up… to vaporize it.
Khashoggi, former manager and editor of Al-Arab News Channel and editor of Saudi newspaper Al Watan, went on self-exile to the US in Sept. 2017, associating himself with the Washington Post. Sharply critical of Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and the King, he widely wrote of the Kingdom’s misdoings in the country and in the Middle East.
After Hariri’s forced resignation stunt in Dec. 2017, Jamal wrote, ‘As if we Arabs need another crisis in our shattered world… The impulsivity of MBS has been a consistent theme — from the war in Yemen to the wave of arrests of critics, royals and senior officials accused of corruption. The severity of Saudi Arabia’s action against Lebanon mirrors in the blockade of Qatar in June — abrupt, with no room for negotiation’.
The truth is that, in addition to Khashoggi being widely read, especially in the West, which made image-making for the Kingdom and the Prince quite difficult, he also had many royal secrets in his heart, owing to his close relations with many royals and other Middle Eastern key-players. Ever since his exile, the Saudis were becoming increasingly nervous of him.
Before Khashoggi’s death, MBS’ phone call to US’s Jared Kushner and John Bolton, in which he allegedly reminded them that Khashoggi had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, shows that the Prince wanted the US to refrain from his protection, which apparently they declined. Khashoggi’s Muslim Brotherhood inclination was not a secret. In his youth he had thought of them as more democratic than the monarchies of the Middle East, but later he denied being part of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the Saudis always had good ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and welcomed its members being persecuted in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria – until Erdogan’s coming to power and the Arab Spring, after which they saw the Muslim Brotherhood as a real threat, that could put an end to their monarchic dictatorship through another people’s revolution.
Khashoggi’s friendship with Turkey was thus scornful for the Saudis and they started calling him an ‘Islamist’ – the same Islamist Riyadh wanted bans on in the Qatar crisis.
But there was more. According to his friend Asiem El Difraoui, Khashoggi knew a lot about the ‘corruption, possible connections to extremism and the internal disputes and wrongdoing of the royal house'. The Sunday Express even claimed that Khashoggi was going to receive ‘documentary evidence‘ on Saudi Arabia’s use of chemical weapons in Yemen. And the way Jamal was getting fearless in his writings against the Royals, perhaps there was fear that he might become a big inconvenience in the near future. MBS simply did not like to be inconvenienced.
Muhammad bin Salman became crown prince only in 2017. In this little time, the Saudis impetuously escalated bombings over starving Yemen, were daggers drawn with Qatar, arrested a whole bunch of Royals and put them in a hotel with impunity and had Hariri recite his resignation speech on Saudi TV, literally under gunpoint. Such dauntlessness encouraged the belief that Khashoggi’s planned murder must have been just a minor occurrence in a bigger scheme of things.
MBS would not have taken it as a serious offence, certainly not as serious as to have cost him cherished allies like the US and the EU or his Vision 2030. MBS’s Vision 2030 is an ambitious plan of constructing mega-cities, industries, medical and recreational hubs and new high-speed rail links – a modern, industrial economy generating millions of jobs. But none of this can be achieved without external technological cooperation and billion-dollar deals with the world’s leading contractors, nor without appropriating huge sums of Saudi money lying dormant in the US treasury and other European banks.
So far, the first reaction of Western institutions to the gory news of the premeditated murder has been quite impulsive. First, several dignitaries and CEOs, including the US Treasury Secretary, French and Dutch finance ministers, the IMF Chief, CEOs of J.P. Morgan, Blackstone, Standard Chartered, Credit Suisse and Uber, all boycotted Riyadh’s Future Investment Initiative. A few days later, the EU did its bid too as it voted for a measure to ‘urge’ member countries to ban the sale of weapons and surveillance technology to Saudi Arabia.
Still, so much of conscience-show off just for a journalist, did not really add up. Spain's prime minister has said that his government would fulfil past arms sales contracts with Saudi Arabia despite his "dismay" over the "terrible murder". Theresa May also snubbed the opposition’s call to end weapons sales to the Saudis, saying that "the procedures we follow are among the strictest in the world". The US will also not want to backtrack from the Saudis, their only faithful ally in the Middle East, which has never tried to harm their friend Israel. While there is little chance that MBS will directly be charged for this murder, this is a turning point for the Saudis in a fast-changing geo-economic world, where the new US sanctions seem more a portrayal of the country’s weaknesses than a deterrence of its targets. As world-players pull their threads on the Saudis, the latter too can reassess their friends and foes and may decide to forsake the US-camp as sour grapes, after all.
Adding to the climax, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has gone another step ahead. He has shared the recordings of the tapes from the murder-scene with the Saudi King, Trump, Merkel, Macron and May. Will they now demand justice for Khashoggi, or will they use this opportunity to intimidate the Saudis to bend to their interests? Or, would they all be content in simply being accomplices as they all share the burden of the truth now?