Observations of an ex pat: Saudi quicksand

The extremely likely interrogation, torture and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi  inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is set to have far-reaching consequences.

The position of Iran, the civil war in Yemen, the Arab-Israeli conflict, reform in Saudi Arabia, the tenure of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the economic development of Saudi Arabia, US foreign policy and the credibility of President Trump will all be affected.

I should add the caveat that as of this broadcast/writing there is no body and the Saudis continue to deny, deny, deny. But so far they have failed to explain why Mr Khashoggi went into the consulate to keep a 1.15pm appointment on 2nd October and has never been seen since. Neither have they offered an explanation as to why he was preceded and followed by Saudi agents, some of whom carried what are believed to be bone cutting tools. Finally, the Saudi officials have failed to explain an audio recording which strongly indicates the interrogation and torture of Mr Khashoggi.

The onus is on the autocratic ruler of Saudi Arabia— Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) to either produce a live Jamal Khashoggi or a credible explanation for his disappearance. So far he has only shrugged his shoulders, arched his eyebrows and replied: “I dunno.  Nothing to do with me.”

The immediate casualty of the Khashoggi Affair has been MBS’s showcase economic summit the Future Investment Initiative due to start in Riyadh on 23rd October.  The meeting was organised to attract foreign investment to kick start the Crown Prince’s  ambitious Vision 2030 economic plan. This is designed to transform Saudi Arabia from an oil-dependent theocratic  kingdom into a socially, politically and economically diverse modern state. Dozens of key players are protesting against Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance by refusing to attend. MBS’super showcase is threatening to turn into a damp squib.

The Saudis need the money, and not just to diversify their economy. They need to pay for the $110 billion US arms deals that Trump announced at the start of his administration.  They need the weapons to continue to fight their controversial war in Yemen and stand as a regional bulwark against an increasingly aggressive Iran.

From the West’s point of view, Saudi oil is less important than ten years ago. American  success in tapping new resources with fracking techniques has completely altered the global energy picture.  In June US oil production hit a record high of 2.2 million barrels a day and America has returned to the glory days of being a net energy exporter.  If, as threatened by Saudi officials, the desert kingdom imposes  an oil boycott in response to possible Congressional sanctions over the Khashoggi Affair, it can only push up world oil prices and help the US oil industry.

Politics, however, are another matter.  The Trump Administration has put too many eggs in the basket marked “personal relationship with Mohammed bin Salman”.  The President invested substantial political capital in the Crown Prince by making his first foreign trip to Riyadh. His son-in-law Jared Kushner flies in and out of the Saudi capital. MBS is said to be his new best friend and a keystone in Kushner’s yet to be unveiled  and much trailed Arab-Israeli peace plan.  On top of that, MBS is the driving force behind the anti-Iranian US-Saudi alliance.

By developing a foreign policy based almost entirely on personal chemistry with MBS the Trump Administration has backed itself into the Crown Prince’s corner. MBS is being blamed for the disappearance of Khashoggi. He was blamed for the detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and hundreds of dissenting members of the Saudi royal family.  The Crown Prince could fall from power over the Khashoggi affair and would most likely be replaced by religious hardliners.  If he does, America’s Middle East strategy and the credibility of Donald Trump will be dealt a severe blow.

* Journalist Tom Arms is vice-chairman and secretary of Tooting Liberal Democrats and a regular contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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  • ………………the credibility of President Trump will all be affected……………

    The man has no credibility! He has ‘flip-flopped’ on this issue (like on so many more).

    In July of this year he said “”Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.” and yesterday praised Montana Congressman Gianforte’s violent attack on a Guardian reporter.

    John Wilmot’s line about “Whose word no man relies on;” applies to the current US president.

  • Any idea what the Turks are up to in all this ?

  • @nvelope2003 – “Any idea what the Turks are up to in all this ?”

    Trying to redeem themselves as defenders of free speech and journalistic independence!

  • >an increasingly aggressive Iran
    ? some evidence would be helpful.

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Oct '18 - 5:03pm

    Perhaps most, if not all, particular instances are connected to general or universal principles?
    The disappearance of Mr Kashoggi is connected to the vital principle of “habeas corpus”, without which we are all in danger of having our lives and/or liberties stolen by the state. We would be wise to pressure our state to clearly and energetically follow this principle irrespective of contexts, financial, political and otherwise
    Might we also follow Adam Smith’s advice to be ware of different rules for different sets of people and ask about the whereabouts of the Skripals and the lack of application of procedures following the strange death of Dr. David Kelly?

  • The use of the word ‘credible’ (almost) was prophetic (almost)..

    Trump has described the latest u-turn by the Saudi regime as ‘credible’. The only credible bit seems to be that, within a few hours of Trump praising an attack on a Journalist, it seems that it was a fight that killed Mr Kashoggi.

    Perhaps, further admissions will identify a ‘body slam’ as the cause of death.

  • Ronald Murray 20th Oct '18 - 12:42pm

    Some years ago I was offered a job in Saudi with a telecommunications company. I did some research with friends and aquaintances who had worked in the Kingdom. The conclusion I came too was on balance not a chance. Too many horror stories the treatment of women slavery in this family business purporting to be a nation state.
    This alledged butchery surprises no one it is normal with stoning, beheadings and mutilation being the norm justified by rheir manipulation of Islam.
    The truth must come out. Not to mention the pre pardoning of saudi personnel who commit atrocities in Yemen. Yet our country allows massive arms trade with the regime.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Oct '18 - 1:19pm

    The only possible response to this hideous crime is to globally isolate Saudi Arabia until it atones for this act.

  • Apart from directly accusing the Saudis of the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi President Erdogan did not offer any evidence, not even the alleged audio tape but he wants the 18 Saudis who were in the Consulate General in Istanbul to be tried in Turkey. Maybe the evidence will be presented in court in the event of such a trial taking place.

  • Simon Banks 2nd Jan '19 - 4:18pm

    Nvelope asks a very pertinent question. The current Turkish government is not generally worried about brutal repression, though the Saudi record of massively funding fundamentalist Sunni Islam does not suit Turkish culture or interests. My guess is that Turkish pride has been deeply hurt by the slight: “Get rid of this nuisance, by all means, but not in front of our faces in our country!”

  • Richard Underhill 29th Apr '20 - 11:07am

    khashoggi’s fiancée does not believe that the Crown prince of Saudi Arabia did not order the murder. The BBC has reported that she wants the football authorities to prevent the takeover of Newcastle United football club.
    We would strongly disapprove if a British citizen was murdered on the instruction of Vladimir Putin. There is an important principle to defend. We should give her moral support.
    The syndicate offering to buy Newcastle United should look elsewhere for its finance.

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