The Khashoggi Murder: One Year On
Qatari writer says affair revealed ‘repressive face’ of Saudi Arabia, affected its image ‘at all levels’
For a year, Saudi Arabia has been in the hot seat over the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who on October 2, 2018, entered his country’s consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents and was not seen again.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MbS, took indirect responsibility for the killing during a recent interview on the CBS News program 60 Minutes.
“This happened under my watch and I take full responsibility,” he said.
Yet MbS denied having had direct knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi, unlike what the CIA, the Turkish government and others have concluded. He said that Saudi Arabia has “20 million citizens and three million government employees. I have officials and ministers, they have their jobs. They have the power to do that.”
Saleh Ghareeb, a Qatari writer and political analyst, told The Media Line that “the image of Saudi Arabia was affected at all levels, as the killing of Khashoggi revealed its repressive face.”
Since MbS came to power, Saudi Arabia has been accused of trampling the rights of activists and other citizens who disagree with Riyadh’s policies. Hundreds of Saudi academics, activists and Islamic scholars have been detained, with some being tortured. The best-known incident had dozens of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens being arrested and held in the capital’s Ritz Carlton Hotel until they agreed to turn much of their wealth over to the government.
“When we would talk about it, no one believed the repressive role of the Saudi regime in silencing voices that oppose it, especially from the Shi’ite side. But Khashoggi’s death revealed to the world what the kingdom is doing,” Ghareeb said.
“The impact on the Saudi government has been huge and it will take a long time to improve its image to the world,” he continued. “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman now taking responsibility for his role does not correct the situation or whiten the Saudi face before the world.”
Ahmed Obaid Saif, a political analyst and writer from the United Arab Emirates, disagrees, telling The Media Line that despite widespread criticism of the Saudi government, “relations between Saudi Arabia, its allies and other key countries remain solid. Saudi foreign relations are about much more than Khashoggi.”
He claims that Riyadh has been “very transparent” in its handling of the killing.
“It should be noted that Khashoggi was mistakenly killed on Saudi sovereign territory, where Saudi Arabia has the right to exercise its sovereignty,” he explained.
Saif added that both Qatar and Turkey “took advantage of the Khashoggi incident to lobby in the media against the Saudi kingdom, and while the global reaction to the lies of Turkey and Qatar has been cruel, the kingdom continues its war on terrorism and extremists in the area.”
Hisham Jaber, a Lebanese political analyst and former general, told The Media Line that “the majority of countries around the world put their interests before their values” and that therefore Saudi foreign relations remained unaffected.
“The relationship between the Saudi kingdom and the American administration wasn’t affected at all despite prominent American voices calling for Saudi Arabia to be held accountable,” he said.
Jaber added that all existing arms deals between the US and Saudi Arabia “are still in place, and diplomatic and political relations remain the same. The American administration works within the principle of numbers, where its own interest comes before anything else. The American president [Donald Trump] is a businessman par excellence.”
Throughout the past year, MbS has described the killing of Khashoggi as “heinous” and pledged it would be investigated.
Saudi authorities have charged 11 suspects in the killing but haven’t disclosed their names. Five are currently on secret trial and facing the death penalty for “ordering and committing the crime.” In addition, two senior officials, Saoud Al Qahtani, a key adviser to the crown prince, and Ahmad Asiri, deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, were fired although they were not part of the team that traveled to Istanbul.
According to Turkish intelligence, 15 Saudi agents flew there on two private jets hours before Khashoggi’s death. Most were from the Saudi army, security or intelligence services, with some working in the Saudi royal court. A forensics expert from the Interior Ministry is believed to have dismembered the body.
Before going into self-exile, Khashoggi worked for several government newspapers and served as an adviser to a former intelligence chief. He moved to the US, where he wrote opinion pieces for The Washington Post that were increasingly critical of the domestic repression of political activists and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
He went to the consulate in Istanbul to acquire the necessary papers to get married.