By Ty Joplin
On Tuesday, Oct 2, Jamal Khashoggi walked into Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and was likely murdered inside.
Khashoggi, a fierce critic of Saudi’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, went to the consulate with his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside for 11 hours.
Turkish intelligence and other officials have told reporters for Washington Post and The New York Times that a 15-man death squad was sent by Saudi to the consulate, where they apprehended, tortured and murdered Khashoggi, and then dismembered his corpse.
If true, the brutal execution of a Saudi critic abroad is the latest in a series of escalating moves to silence critics of Saudi’s regime, which is effectively led by Mohammad bin Salman. At home, bin Salman has led purges of Saudi’s elite and sentenced several prominent women’s rights activists to death. Internationally, the murder of Khashoggi follows Saudi’s public ousting of Canadian diplomats following a tweet that criticized the regime’s human rights record.
Bin Salman, heralded by many major media outlets in the U.S. and Europe as the harbinger of a so-called ‘Saudi Arab Spring,’ has shown his priorities lie less with instituting liberal reforms and more with centralizing the Saudi government around him and violently disposing of those who criticize his rule.
Khashoggi is the first critic to be killed abroad under bin Salman’s rule, but he may not be the last.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch told Al Bawaba the following regarding the alleged killing:
“If Saudi authorities surreptitiously detained and murdered Khashoggi it would be yet another escalation of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s reign of repression against peaceful dissidents and critics.”
“Western allies should condemn this thuggish, illegal behavior and investors should take notice that any semblance of respect for basic rights and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia is a fiction,” she added.
The Details of Khashoggi’s Alleged Murder
Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laurrette, protests in Istanbul to find the details of Khashoggi’s disappearance (AFP/OZAN KOSE)
Jamal Khashoggi, 59, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to fill out forms for his planned marriage to Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen. Fearful that he something may happened to him while inside, he told his fiancee to alert an advisor to Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan if he did not return.
When he did not leave the consulate, Cengiz sounded alarms, and Turkish officials began investigating his disappearance. For days, his whereabouts were unknown.
Turkish intelligence officials and other anonymous sources, including a senior member of an Arab government in the region, have begun telling journalists that Khashoggi was murdered inside.
Turkish security officials told The New York Times that they have checked all security camera footage around the consulate and did not see Khashoggi leave the building, but did report Saudi official cars moving in and out of the complex during the time he was inside. Saudi officials, including bin Salman himself, insisted over the weekend that Khashoggi had left the consulate after filling out paperwork related to his marriage, only to go missing later.
Anonymous officials report that Saudi Arabia sent 15 men on two different planes to the consulate in Istanbul, where they all converged while Khashoggi was inside. They report that, after apprehending him, they brutally tortured him to death before cutting his body into pieces.
Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most vocal Saudi critics of Mohammad bin Salman and his authoritarian style of rule. A Saudi government insider who spent decades advising the royal court, Khashoggi was a well-respected member of the Saudi elite. However, he exiled himself from Saudi in September 2017 after witnessing the beginnings of bin Salman’s purge of Saudi’s royal court.
“With young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, he promised an embrace of social and economic reform. He spoke of making our country more open and tolerant and promised that he would address the things that hold back our progress, such as the ban on women driving,” Khashoggi wrote for the Washington Post.
“But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests.”
He also wrote of his own civic duty to speak against bin Salman’s regime: “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. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”
That Khashoggi was followed by millions and even trusted by much of Saudi’s elite made him an undismissable voice and thus, a prime target to be silenced.
Bin Salman, in an interview with Bloomberg the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance, denied knowledge of his whereabouts, and further declined to say he was facing any charges in Saudi Arabia, telling the reporters present that Saudi needed to know where he is before pressing charges.
“We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises. The premises are sovereign territory, but we will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do. If they ask for that, of course, we will allow them,” bin Salman declared.
“We have nothing to hide.”
Bin Salman’s Authoritarianism is Going Global
Mohammad bin Salman (Al Bawaba)
Khashoggi's alleged murder is the latest in a series of escalating moves signalling bin Salman’s growing domestic and global power.
Yemeni civilians were the first victim of bin Salman’s storied rise. He ordered the Saudi-led invasion of the country in March 2015, bombing their agricultural, tourist, and government centers into the ground before blocking off the ports of the country. His war tactics, well documented by Al Bawaba, involved disproportionately bombing Yemen’s farms, cattle and hospitals. Since Saudi has been a reliable ally to Europe and the U.S., it received billions of dollars in armaments and military aid from the U.K., U.S., France, Spain and Germany among others.
With the West’s backing, he has held Yemen in a medieval style besiegement, causing what the U.N. calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
After pressuring his way to be Saudi’s heir apparent to the throne, he ordered a wide-scale internal purge concurrent with a public re-branding of Saudi Arabia to look less like a hermit kingdom ruled by ancient-seeming customs and old men, and more like one leading the global race for technological development and innovation.
His rebranding appeared to have largely worked, as U.S. and U.K. journalist termed bin Salman a young, vivacious reformer, praising his global tour of Europe and the U.S.
Some news outlets love bin Salman (Al Bawaba)
All the while, bin Salman was arresting and extorting dissident members of Saudi’s royal court, and killing high-profile rivals: moves he described as apart of an “anti-corruption crackdown.”
He received widespread acclaim for allowing Saudi women to regain their right to drive, but has imprisoned the activists who have been calling for this reform. Since May, bin Salman has had over a dozen such Saudi activists arrested. He has also arrested prominent Shia Saudi activists and sentenced five to death on terrorism charges even as they engaged in non-violent behavior.
One of the activists bin Salman has jailed is Samar Badawi, whose vocal opposition to Saudi’s male guardian system made her a proverbial adversary to the state. After Canada demanded she be released, Saudi kicked out Canada’s diplomats and ordered all Saudi exchange students studying in Canada to return home. One Saudi agency even appeared to threaten Canada with 9/11-esque images that depicted a Canadian plane hitting the Toronto skyline.
Saudi’s threat to Canada (Twitter)
The diplomatic row between Canada and Saudi tested the alliances Europe and the U.S. had, and forced many to pick a side. Many remained silent, keeping their own diplomatic staff in Saudi and advocating both countries solve their differences themselves, in effect allowing Saudi to maintain the pressure on Canada.
The alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi, if true, is part of bin Salman’s local and global effort to silence critics, no matter if they are a powerful country or an influential Saudi journalist.
Bin Salman’s regime has, so far, not faced international repercussions for his war in Yemen, purge, arbitrary mass arrests of activists, or diplomatic spat with Canada. This likely empowered him to escalate his fight further and assassinate Khashoggi.
Although Trump has bragged that the Saudi regime would not last more than two weeks without U.S. support, that support appears to be unwavered and thus far, unconditional.
In the same interview bin Salman denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, he waxed praise on Trump, “I love working with him. I really like working with him and we have achieved a lot in the Middle East…” He also made clear in the interview he preferred Trump to Obama.
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, for his part, has positioned himself as a rival champion to Sunni Muslim interests in the world, and will likely use the alleged murder of Khashoggi as proof that bin Salman is a tyrant.
The ‘reform warrior’ veneer slathered onto bin Salman with a combination of praise from major Western outlets and careful Saudi marketing, is beginning to wash off. Underneath appears to be bin Salman’s single-minded drive to centralize power around him, and violently repress those who stand in his way.
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