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CWA # 63, 30 October 2018

Middle East
The Khashoggi Killing: Unanswered Questions

  Harini Madhusudan

Why was Jamal killed? By killing him, is Saudi Arabia sending a strong message to its critics? Will this impact the US- Saudi relations?

Harini Madhusudan is a Project Associate at the ISSSP, NIAS.

Khashoggi had a reputation of being a strong critic of the Saudi government. Why was Jamal killed? By killing him, is Saudi Arabia sending a strong message to its critics? Will this impact the US- Saudi relations?


Khashoggi vs MbS

“Saudi Arabia’s crown prince must restore dignity to his country- by ending Yemen cruel war..” was Jamal’s last Washington Post column. But this critical approach towards Saudi Crown Prince, might not be what got him killed. There is a rising anti-Saudi trend in the world today, targeted by the left for being a western ally and too close to the Trump family. Targeted also by the right for its new approach at making liberal policies in recent times. Not to forget its role in the Yemen Crisis and sanctions on Qatar.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in the last few years has implemented a series of high-profile social and economic reforms. Also there was a crackdown on dissent, a purge of top businessmen and royals on corruption charges and the control over Saudi Arabia’s security and intelligence agencies.

From a current political perspective, many in Saudi (especially those vying for the throne), would want Salman to be seen in a bad way.

So what does Jamal’s killing represent? It could simply be a message to the critics. This also has destroyed the sense of freedom to speak out when they are abroad. The UK is already making a list of potential members that may be the next target.

Saudi Arabia is also shaken by the case. So much that the King, has personally his most trusted aide, Mecca governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal, to Istanbul to try to defuse the crisis. Saudi has also announced that 18 members have been arrested and 5 members who are close to the Crown Prince have been removed from their roles. King Salman had ordered the dismissal of Saud al-Qahtani, a royal court advisor seen as the Crown Prince's right-hand. There are clear signs that the blame for this killing will fall on the intelligence, especially the deputy intelligence director.


17 days and distorted facts

From a note that said he left the consulate 20 minutes after the meeting to morphed images of him and his girlfriend that were circulated on the internet, numerous statements have been made during the entire October. The Turkish authorities were given permission to search the consulate only after several days since the missing. Photos of cleaners and painters moving in and out of the consulate have also surfaced on the web.

One of the reasons for the distorted facts could be that the information and proceedings of the initiative were not reported back or were incompletely reported. Re-emphasising that if they wanted this covered up, it would have been. An official said, the deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, Ahmed al-Asiri, put together a 15-member team from the intelligence and security forces to go to Istanbul, meet Khashoggi at the consulate and try to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia. the government wanted to convince Khashoggi, who moved to Washington a year ago to return to the kingdom as part of a campaign to prevent Saudi dissidents from being recruited by the country's enemies, the official said. So did someone act against their orders?


What really got him killed then?

Khashoggi has had a complicated career before he went missing. In the 1980s, Khashoggi’s interview with Osama bin Laden launched his career. After graduating from Indiana State University, he returned to Saudi Arabia to work for an English newspaper. In the 1980s during anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, Khashoggi was supporting the Mujahideen. He was one among the many Arab journalists from that time who were admittedly sympathetic to the Afghan Jihad.

There have also been attempts by some American conservatives to characterize Khashoggi as an extremist due to his expressed sympathies for bin Laden's cause during the 1980s as well as his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He was twice fired as the editor of the most progressive Saudi newspaper, Al Watan, in one case for publishing sharp critiques of Islamist extremists. A television news network he helped to found in Bahrain in 2012 was taken off the air after one day after it broadcast an interview with a critic of that country’s authoritarian regime.

They did not kill him then, why now?

He once had a close relationship with the Saudi Royal family. It is rumoured that Khashoggi worked as a Saudi spy, due to the relationship he had with Prince Turki al- Faisal, the Saudi intelligence chief.

Things began to change in 2015 for Khashoggi when King Salman and later the rise of MbS. Amid MbS’ efforts to consolidate power, Khashoggi moved to the US. Many of Khashoggi’s friends were arrested along with MbS’ fellow princes and prominent businessmen. What stands out is that, six months before he left Saudi, he was banned from writing because he was critical of President Donald Trump and the Saudi government's apparent trust in the US leader.

His death has put the Saudi royal family in an uncomfortable and a tough spotlight. It has also successfully put the Donald Trump in a tight position for his and Jared Kushner’s close ties to the Kingdom.

His death also has become a stepping stone for a lot of push towards ‘Free Journalism,’ in the Arab region. While he was still missing, Washington Post, posted an article written by his secretary; Titled “What the Arab world needs most is free expression,” he speaks of an Arab version of Iron Curtain and calls for versions of Radio Free Europe to grow within the Arab world which would, ‘sustain the hope of freedom.’

This case fits in the larger part, the concept of ‘Truth Decay,’ the distortion of facts by the large volumes of information and misinformation. War means business and Saudi Arabia is United States’ single largest customer in buying arms. President Donald Trump, when Turkey made a statement of the presence of the audio files, announced that, if the claims against Saudi were indeed true, there would be serious consequences against Saudi. Saudi Arabia also sent a mysterious amount of $100 million to the US during the days that Khashoggi went missing.

Now that the death has been confirmed, what happens to the Saudi-US relationship?

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