By Patrick Brogan
Before going any further, this headline refers to how the global elite and the Saudi regime see Jamal Khashoggi. He is a human being and has fundamental rights and they deserve to be respected. His going missing and possible murder is a tragedy, especially to his family who are still left in the dark as to his whereabouts.
If you are unfamiliar with this story, Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist who had moved away from his native country. He was divorced and was seeking to remarry to a Turkish lady. As part of this process, he needed to prove he was actually divorced and sought to obtain the correct papers from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. According to friends he chatted to in London just before his disappearance, he seemed relaxed about going to the consulate. However, his fiancée said his mood changed on the day and he became concerned. He told that her if he did not return in, she should contact a senior Turkish official on his mobile phone which he left her. He entered the consulate but has not been seen since. There is a lot of hearsay as to what happened then and after.
In recent years, Khashoggi had been writing for The Washington Post, but started his career in Saudi Arabia. He is a bit of contradictory figure when looked at. While being critical of Saudi Arabia in some ways, he was also part of the elite and had a role in advising senior Saudi circles. He even met Osama bin Laden on behalf of the royals and according to some reports tried to convince him to change his path towards all-out jihad.
While editor of Al-Watan newspaper, Khashoggi allowed criticism of the Wahhabi influence on Saudi society. Many believe he was forced from this post soon afterwards. He was critical of the religious extremists running the Arab country numerous times. In later years, he was no fan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Donald Trump, the Saudis’ most important ally.
Since becoming the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, bin Salman has become somewhat of a darling of the West. He was praised for his seemingly sweeping reforms. Maybe, it was because they were paid to do so. On the surface, this looked very positive especially the more progressive attitudes towards women. However, as many western politicians realised some time ago, you can throw the people a liberal change or two as long as it doesn’t really impact on the structures of power. Many of these reforms were geared at bringing in foreign investment as Western companies could not justify doing business in such a fundamentalist country and had very little to do with improving the living standards in the country.
The West seemed to be not too alarmed by the fact that bin Salman arrested many members of the royal family, who would have been his biggest rivals for power. The media on this side of the world bought the line that it was an anti-corruption purge. Sarah Leah Whiston of Human Rights Watch said that there was “a pattern of unlawful abductions” since bin Salman rose to prominence and Khashoggi himself said the reason he left Arabia was due to bin Salman putting his rivals away as he pointed out in this interview. And Khashoggi had reason to fear he would be on that list of enemies due to his criticism of bin Salman and also, the war in Yemen. Not only was he taking a negative stance towards the new leader, but he was also part of the old guard. Many feel this was enough motivation to have him killed. He knew too much and had started speaking out.
Would Turkey Lie?
The evidence is a bit shaky, to say the least. Although sections of the US intelligence community agreed with Turkish officials that Khashoggi was murdered, hard evidence has been difficult to come by. He entered the consulate, nobody denies this. The Saudis initially said they have footage of him leaving, but never offered it to the media to view and seem to have gone back on this in recent days. The Turkish said he was tortured and his body chopped up for removal by a crack team of 15 specialists sent from Riyadh. Even if those people are who the Turks say they are, does this prove he was murdered? It is possible that he is languishing in a remote cell in Saudi Arabia. Maybe Turkey is making these claims because they had they consulate bugged, which is common practice.
Would Turkey have any reason to lie? Well, yes. The Middle East Cold War is between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both are very influential in the wars in Syria and Yemen. A new player has emerged and this is upsetting the balance of power further; Turkey. Indeed, many are suspicious of Turkey’s expansionist plan under Erdogan. Is this part of his re-Ottomanisation of the Middle East?
Turkey and the House of Saud have not seen eye-to-eye in recent years and this tension raised when Turkey backed Qatar whilst the Saudis and their local allies were boycotting and blockading the country. The Grand Chessboard looks increasingly unstable.
While both nations have said they will cooperate in a joint investigation, it is unlikely they will both reach an honest conclusion. Along with Iran, both are trying to elbow their way into the figurative centre of the Middle East. Indeed, it was Saudi Arabia, with the help of the West, that knocked Ottoman Turkey of its perch. Will the life of a man named Jamal Khashoggi be just another footnote in the long drawn out conflict of the Middle East?
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