What happened to Jamal Khashoggi? Saudi...
What happened to Jamal Khashoggi? It seems abundantly clear that he never left the consulate, and the Saudi explanation that they cannot prove it because their security cameras weren’t working that day has a “dog ate my homework” quality to it.
The longer the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains missing, the more questions his disappearance raises. Turkish officials believe that missing Saudi journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and his body later driven from the compound. The Saudi government, however, says that they had nothing to do with his disappearance and maintains that he left through a back entrance.
“Many Arabs who seek freedom, equality and democracy feel defeated,” wrote Jamal Khashoggi. For more than three decades he has used his voice as a commentator, and position as an editor, to advocate for social and political reform in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East.In his writings for the Washington Post, the Saudi commentator slammed Saudi policies towards Qatar and Canada, the war in Yemen, and a crackdown on dissent and the media in the kingdom.
If he was indeed murdered by his own government, it raises bigger questions about the safety of journalists, freedom of speech, and the future of Saudi relations with Turkey, the US, and others.
Already, several US officials have expressed concern about the matter. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote on Twitter: “If this is true — that the Saudis lured a U.S. resident into their consulate and murdered him — it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
The disappearance, and possible murder, of Jamal Khashoggi, a high-profile critic of the Saudi regime, is the latest, disturbing addition to the rising toll of state-directed, extra-territorial kidnappings, abductions and killings around the world.
It’s not Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first offence. Last December Saad Hariri, the elected prime minister of Lebanon, was effectively kidnapped and, after being roughed up a little, instructed to read out a pre-written resignation speech on Saudi television. Hariri was later restored to office. But the episode was a reminder of the authoritarian Saudi regime’s long, dark history of abductions abroad.
One of the most notorious cases involved a dissenting royal family member, Prince Sultan bin Turki, who was seized in Geneva in 2003. It was claimed at the time that he was drugged and forcibly bundled on to a plane to Riyadh. Was this Khashoggi’s fate? In 2016, Prince Sultan was reportedly kidnapped again, along with members of his entourage. The incident was described by analyst Hugh Miles as part of a “systematic state-run Saudi programme to kidnap defectors and dissidents”.
The growing willingness of states to launch extra-territorial operations is not simply a matter of unscrupulous leaders. It reflects a more general loss of respect for international law and for the much-battered, much-lamented “global rules-based order”. It is one, dire manifestation of the many negative consequences of the ongoing collapse of the postwar, collective UN security system, to which irresponsible populist-nationalists such as Donald Trump are actively contributing.
Khashoggi’s disappearance shows what can happen when the primacy of the law breaks down, and far from fighting to restore it, democratically elected leaders and governments connive in, or turn a blind eye to, the dictators and despots who are responsible.
The sudden disappearance of prominent people should not surprise us. It has become standard practice for regimes concerned with consolidating power while avoiding the inconvenience of democracy.
An increasingly standard method countries like Saudi Arabia and most criminal organizations use for removing undisciplined voices from the public sphere, knowing that even if the event produces a crescendo of bad publicity about illegal and barbaric methods, this constitutes no threat to their regime and such talk will finally wane as the public becomes accustomed and ultimately indifferent to the arbitrary use of state power.
Saudi Arabia uses the pretext of corruption to go after its real or imaginary enemies, which is particularly convenient in a country like Saudi Arabia, where corruption is the norm. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) knows that both friends and enemies are corrupt, but there’s no point in causing bother for one’s friends. On the other hand, because everyone knows the entire regime is corrupt, another pretext is often required. Terrorism provides the universal antidote to criticism of arbitrary detention, punishment or assassination. If corruption isn’t a sufficient reason to justify disappearing the critics, the government can call their actions terrorism.
King Salman declared himself a moderniser who wished to return the kingdom to a more moderate Islam and shift the economy away from its dependence on oil. Since then cinemas have opened, and women been allowed to drive. Some western observers had hoped he might be willing to introduce a degree of political reform. Instead, intolerance ramped up – with women who had campaigned for the right to drive among those jailed. Mohammed bin Salman is not a benevolent despot—an image that he and his advisors have cultivated—but a despot in the mold of Saddam Hussein. He is no keener on criticism from overseas, lashing out at Canada when it criticised human rights abuses. That should not deter others from having their say now. Mr Khashoggi set his face against such intimidation. We admire his courage and stand by him.