Did Saudi Arabia kill Jamal Khashoggi?
Consulate of no returnDid Saudi Arabia kill Jamal Khashoggi?
If so, it would be a chilling escalation by a repressive regime
print-edition iconPrint edition | Middle East and Africa| ISTANBUL
JAMAL KHASHOGGI is gone, and with each passing day it seems more likely that his government killed him. A prominent Saudi journalist living in self-imposed exile, he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to collect some paperwork for a new marriage. A CCTV camera recorded him entering it. There is no sign that he left. Turkish police believe he was murdered by men flown in from Riyadh. Some believe it was a botched kidnapping. His body, say the Turks, was carved up with a bone saw and smuggled out in a black Mercedes van.
Though there is no proof, the evidence of foul play is mounting. On October 10th a pro-government Turkish newspaper published photos of the men it said were flown in from Saudi Arabia. Video footage showed them arriving at the consulate and leaving later that afternoon. One was later identified as a forensic expert; others as members of the Saudi security services. Turkeyâs president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has not repeated the allegation of murder. But it is unlikely police would have made such a claim without his blessing.Get our daily newsletter
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Saudi officials deny the charges and insist Mr Khashoggi left the building safely. But they have offered no evidence. The Saudi consul in Istanbul says, implausibly, that his CCTV system did not record any footage. He has not produced visitor logs or documents, nor even offered an account of Mr Khashoggiâs time inside.
It is no mystery why Saudi Arabia might have wanted to silence Mr Khashoggi. He was a critic of the powerful crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. Mr Khashoggi wrote frequently in Arabic, penned a regular column for the Washington Post, and kept close ties with countless diplomats and journalists. For more than a year he used that platform to criticise growing repression in Saudi Arabia and urge an end to the war in Yemen. But he was hardly a radical. Mr Khashoggi was part of the Saudi elite, close to members of the royal family. In the 2000s he advised Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief who became Saudi Arabiaâs ambassador to Britain and America. He often stressed that his criticism of the regime was constructive, not a rejection of the monarchy. His editor at the Post says he did not even like the label âdissidentâ.
The brutal prince
Though his disappearance was widely covered because of his connections, it was not entirely unusual. The crown prince detained more than 100 royals and ministers in an âanti-corruptionâ sweep last year. Many hundreds of activists languish in jail; some may face the death penalty. Last year the Saudis detained Saad Hariri, Lebanonâs prime minister, for two weeks. Even spiriting Mr Khashoggi out of Turkey would have had precedent. In March a womenâs-rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, was arrested in Abu Dhabi, put on a plane to Saudi Arabia and, later, jailed.
None of this brought any consequences for Prince Muhammad. Heads of state and titans of industry still cheered him as a reformer and ac cepted Saudi contracts. But the latest escalation, if proven, may forever mark him for his ruthlessness. Murdering critics abroad is a tactic previously employed by despots like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, who used their embassies to terrorise exiles. It would be an unmistakable, brutal message to Saudi dissidents: the state can reach you anywhere. That Mr Khashoggi was an insider only makes it more powerful.
Mr Erdoganâs relationship with Saudi Arabia was already strained, partly over his support for Qatar in its dispute with its Gulf neighbours. His country has become a haven for Arab dissidents, particularly exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group which the Saudis dislike and their Emirati allies detest (see article). The authoritarian Mr Erdogan is also the worldâs leading jailer of journalists. Saudi apologists are using those facts to try to discredit any Turkish investigation. Prince Muhammad may not care much about a dÃ©marche from Mr Er dogan.
Other reactions will matter more. If the crown prince abducted or killed a critic in Istanbul, business leaders may reconsider attending an investment conference in Riyadh later this month. In America, where Mr Khashoggi lived, members of Congress have expressed outrage. President Donald Trump, who is close to the Saudis, bitterly feuding with Turkey and not exactly a champion of human rights, still said, on October 10th: âThis is a bad situation. We cannot let this happenâ"to reporters, to anybody, we canât let this happen. And weâre going to get to the bottom of it.â
A final question is how Saudis themselves will react. Prince Muhammad enjoys strong support at home, even though parts of his agenda are going poorly. His economic reforms have met predictable headwinds. His foreign policies range from missteps, like the blockade of Qatar, to catastrophes, like the war in Yemen. But his cultural reformsâ"granting women the right to drive, allowing cinemas and concertsâ"are broadly popular, and few independent voices are left to criticise him.
Saudi propagandists are working tirelessly to spread misinformation. Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned channel, aired an interview with Mr Khashoggiâs son, Salah, in which he suggested that his father was not even engaged. This is nonsense; acquaintances in Istanbul knew his fiancÃ©e. On social media Saudi commentators promote the absurd theory that Qatar killed him. In a recent conversation Mr Khashoggi lamented the cult of personality surrounding the crown prince. The media are not allowed to debate problems in Saudi Arabia, because that would suggest that the regime is weak, he said. He tried to nurture that debate while in exile. Perhaps even that was too much for the kingdomâs increasingly autocratic leaders.Source: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia