Arab Nations Pledge Support For Saudi Arabia As ‘Khashoggi Affair’ Heats Up
Could regional political and economic alliances prove stronger than the ethics of accounting for the journalist’s disappearance?
As the diplomatic spat between Turkey and Saudi Arabia intensifies over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul earlier this month, several Arab countries have recently issued public statements pledging strong support for the kingdom.
Earlier this month, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée, who reportedly waited outside the consulate for the journalist to emerge.
After the Saudi national seemingly disappeared, Turkish officials launched a preliminary investigation, requesting access to the consulate. In the days that followed, investigators started leaking audio tapes and video footage suggesting that the journalist was murdered and then dismembered inside the consulate.
They also reportedly revealed information suggesting that a 15-man Saudi hit squad, which flew in and out of Istanbul on the same day the journalist went missing, carried out the deed. The squad allegedly included a forensics expert and utilized a bone saw, according to Turkish media.
Khashoggi’s remains have yet to be found. For its part, Saudi Arabia has denied any wrongdoing, calling the murder accusations “baseless lies.”
Asaf Romirowsky, a Middle East historian and Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told The Media Line that the affair appears to have generated a lot of quid pro quo diplomacy, but no hard evidence has yet emerged.
“The Turks are pointing fingers and the Saudis are doing the same, but nobody has proven any kind of data, amid a lot of speculation,” Romirowsky cautioned.
Khashoggi, who contributed to The Washington Post, wrote critically of the Saudi regime’s war in Yemen, recent diplomatic tensions with Canada, and arrest of women’s rights activists. After Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ascended to power, the journalist went into a self-imposed exile in the United States.
In response to the Turkish leaks in the affair, U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed “severe punishment” for the kingdom if it is found to be responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, though he stopped short of saying the U.S. would cancel more than $100 billion in arms sales to Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has threatened to retaliate for any sanctions it could receive over the affair. The state-run Saudi Press Agency released a statement warning that if it “receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
The statement has led some analysts to speculate that the kingdom could drastically cut oil production in an attempt to fend off the investigation or any resulting penalties.
Saudi stocks recently took a hit as investors fretted over the diplomatic fallout from the affair and the specter of political instability in the kingdom. Some business executives from around the world have already refused to attend an upcoming Saudi-sponsored investment forum known as “Davos in the Desert” over the alleged murder.
Meanwhile, Arab countries expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia amid growing criticisms that the kingdom has not been fully cooperating with Turkish investigators. Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the UAE, and Yemen issued statements pledging full support for the kingdom.
On Sunday for example, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement pledging his “absolute confidence” in the Saudi leadership, adding that “Palestine was—and shall remain—on the side of Saudi Arabia.” The kingdom “has always supported—and still does—our just cause and the rights of our people.”
An article appearing in the Saudi Gazette, a daily English-language newspaper published in Saudi Arabia, wrote that Arab nations affirmed “their complete solidarity with Saudi Arabia against efforts to harm the kingdom’s policy, position and sovereignty.”
The Saudi Gazette ran through the statements issued by state-run Arab news agencies, providing few details about the Khashoggi case itself. It reported that Saba, the Yemeni news agency, said the kingdom is “being subjected to malicious and prejudicial tendencies due to its honorable and honest positions with issues regarding the Arab and Islamic nation and its leading roles in regional and international stability.”
The statements raise questions about the ethical risks of throwing support behind Saudi Arabia before a full investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance is carried out. Furthermore, even if no such investigation materializes, the preliminary evidence does not look good for Saudi Arabia.
“Arab countries are being pressured to say the Saudis are clean because of their strong diplomatic and financial ties to the kingdom. But the Saudis should be held accountable if there is evidence against them,” Romirowsky contended.
“They should not be getting away with this kind of action, while at the same time maintaining their status as a key ally of the U.S,” he concluded.
Varsha Koduvayur, a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told The Media Line that there is not yet “an ethical risk to Arab countries coming out in support of Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi incident.
“Despite the allegations that Turkish authorities have made about Khashoggi being killed by a Saudi hit squad, Turkey has yet to publicize any hard evidence corroborating those claims,” Koduvayur said.
“However, it’s also highly circumspect that Saudi Arabia, which maintains Khashoggi left the consulate, has yet to turn up proof attesting to that,” he concluded.
“The longer the investigation into his disappearance continues and the more the mystery intensifies, we could see increasing reputational risks for the countries that have come out in support of Saudi Arabia, which could affect these states’ relationships with Washington.”