On October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul and never walked out.
The scope of the conspiracy, the magnitude of the savagery, the imbecility of the cover-up, and the subsequent cheap royal mea culpa were all appalling. Jamal Khashoggi’s death was a premeditated murder. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted that this criminal act transgressed against both Turkey-Saudi relations and all diplomatic norms, and that this could not simply be swept under the rug. He demanded that the criminals must be handed over to Turkey, and in a recent OpEd, stated that the murder order came from the highest level of the Saudi government.
The MBS Effect
Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) is a deformer disguised as a reformer. Since actual political or religious reform was never in his nor in the royal family’s interest, he instituted feeble changes in the Kingdom related to driving and attending recreational public events tailored to temporarily win the hearts and minds of the Saudi youth.
MBS’ obsession with power and his determination to consolidate political and economic power under his command by any ruthless means necessary was apparent to some objective observers in the Middle East and the West, who sounded the alarm early on.
The warnings began when he took over virtually all key ministries, when he claimed he would fight corruption with arbitrary arrests and Mafia-style shakedowns, when he started a mass execution of Saudi Shi’ites—publically executing 47 Shia activists and clerics on the same day, when he arrested the Prime Minister of Lebanon and forced him to resign while visiting Riyadh, when he put a blockade on Qatar and recklessly tried to invade it, and certainly when he turned Yemen into a hell on earth.
Within that context, some may consider the barbaric murder of Jamal Khashoggi as the straw that broke the camel’s back, while others, especially among many Muslims around the world, consider this an unfolding prophecy. Islam teaches that committing flagrant oppression and those who shamelessly dishonor their parents are tormented in this world before they are tormented in the hereafter. The Crown Prince has demonstrated both qualities.
But the Crown Prince does have his own defenders. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt have called on President Donald Trump, urging him to save MBS from this public disgrace because he is an indispensable strategic partner.
What Led To Khashoggi’s Martyrdom?
Jamal Khashoggi had ten qualities that MBS and his blind cohorts considered grave threats.
He was widely known and respected in the Arab world and was rapidly gaining fame in the West. He had a keen awareness of regional challenges and geopolitical dynamics that clashed with Saudi Arabia’s national interest. He was an insider who knew the strengths and weaknesses of all the royal players. He supported the Arab Spring and argued that it never died and that another wave was imminent – little did he know that he was destined to become the Bouazizi of that second wave. He propagated that freedom of speech and expression is a God-given right and when a ruler resorts to tyranny it is an Islamic obligation to counsel him, and when necessary, publically call him out. He opposed the thinly-veiled campaign of Saudi Arabia to demonize Turkey and Qatar. He was against the arbitrary arrests used to silence certain prominent figures in the country. He was a genuine patriot who loved his country and rejected the idea of being portrayed as part of the political opposition or as foreign nation’s mouthpiece. He was against Israel’s illegal unilateral decision to take all of Jerusalem as its capital city and Saudi Arabia’s silent consent on the matter. And, more importantly, he was critical of MBS’ repressive modus operandi, haphazard economic reform, and self-destructive foreign policy, especially with the catastrophic war in Yemen.
Future of Saudi/US Relations
The current US administration has a poor record of protecting the freedom of expression, human rights, and the rule of law. It also favors MBS’ decision to abandon the Palestinian aspiration for statehood and to deal directly with Jarod Kushner on Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ (or peace process hogwash). The US has strategically kept the Kingdom without a US Ambassador since 2017.
Granted, Trump will continue fighting hard for a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia. But when American Senators are openly expressing their discontent and supporting protests regarding this mortal fiasco and how that could irreversibly damage America’s global credibility, when one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest supporters in the Senate, Senator Lindsey Graham, publically declares “I am going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia”, when the global public opinion is in unison in their condemnation and outrage, when international investors boycott Saudi Arabia’s hyped Desert Davos conference, and when the Editorial Board of media powerhouses such as Washington Post calls the kingdom an “outlaw regime”, it should be obvious that resistance is simply futile.
Saudi Arabia will have to choose between becoming like the ‘smiling Hajjaj’—the most ruthless mass murderer in Islamic history—and the upholding the stability of the Kingdom.
Impact on Turkey’s Status In the Islamic World
Turkey has performed exceptionally well on the world stage. Every day that passed has confirmed the sophistication of its intelligence apparatus, diplomatic temperament, and respect for international rule of law.
Mindful of the dynamics, Turkey restrained itself throughout this international ordeal and gave Saudi Arabia enough space and time to confess and penalize those who associated with the assassination. Turkey did not want to come across as an apolitical exploiter, eager to discredit the Kingdom or stain its image.
The time is ripe for launching a campaign of internal healing and restoration in Turkey as well. Erdogan should free the thousands who were imprisoned during ‘the purge”, or during the state of emergency after the failed coup. As documented by various human rights groups, these prisoners include journalists and other civilians whose only guilt is one of association. And, unfathomable as it may seem, extending an amnesty to his nemesis, Fethullah Gulen, whom he wanted extradited for treason, might be another deed for Erdogan to accomplish to further uphold his image.
Can the Monarchy Survive This Madness?
MBS’ bloody ventures have thrown Saudi Arabia down a slippery slope, and that will ultimately create a vacuum within the Sunni world leadership, with more ramifications to follow.
This barbaric killing that crossed all international diplomatic norms will also impact the kingdom’s relationship with the West, especially with the US, UK and France – their largest weapons suppliers and their main logistical support.
Unfortunately, the monarchy’s top leadership is underestimating the magnitude of the gathering clouds in the same way that it underestimated the capacity of the Turkish government.
Saudi Arabia must commit itself to launching a profound reform program that starts with the sidelining of MBS followed by the ending of the war in Yemen, dropping the Shia crescent and Muslim Brotherhood two-headed boogieman nonsense, and empowering its local Shia community. Granted, there will be some who will fight tooth and nail to keep status quo, especially those who believe that scrutinizing the monarchy is equivalent to questioning the custodianship of the two Holy Mosques.
So far, a number of official denials made by the Saudis were, in one way or another, refuted. And each time, the Saudis came back humiliated and forced to accept the Turkish account. Yet the cover up continues, and the Turkish authorities and Khashoggi’s family are yet to find the victim’s body for forensic tests and burial. There is still no closure.
As various objective minds have suggested in one way or another, the best way to get to the bottom of what happened, how it happened, and under whose orders this horrific assassination was carried out, is for UN Security Council to mandate an international tribunal to conduct a transparent investigation.
Every delay and every attempt made to dodge culpability will only push Saudi Arabia closer to a breaking point.