Sarah Aziza reports that the mysterious disappearance and possible murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey is not the first such act taken against dissident Saudis abroad but simply the most daring. It is something that has gone on for decades but has been escalated dramatically by current strongman and friend of Jared Kushner, crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The situation has become so bad that expatriate Saudis wonder if there is any distance that they can put between them and their home country that will be safe.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has employed a wide spectrum of tactics in dealing with dissidents abroad. Often, the Saudi government will begin with an attempt to persuade dissidents to cease their criticism or request that they return to the kingdom to sort out the issue on Saudi soil. Should these efforts fail, the government may move into a more coercive mode. Saudi activists abroad report receiving phone calls from their local embassies and consulates, urging them to come in for undefined reasons. “None of us would ever actually go to these meetings,” one Saudi activist, currently living in the United States, told The Intercept several weeks before Khashoggi’s disappearance. “We know inside there, anything could happen.”
Since then, the government has continued to exert its control on dissenting voices beyond its borders — including those from within the ranks of the royal family. Since 2015, three princes have vanished while abroad after publicizing views critical of the Saudi government. In March 2017, prominent human rights activist Loujan al-Hathloul was arrested in the United Arab Emirates, where she was studying for her master’s degree. She was forced onto a private plane, flown back to Saudi Arabia, and jailed briefly, then placed under a travel ban. (Her husband, Fahad al-Butairi, was also removed from Jordan and flown back to the kingdom.) Later, in May 2018, Saudi security again arrested al-Hathloul at her home amid a wider crackdown on activists. She has not been heard from since.
The audacious, and outsized, nature of Saudi’s more recent crackdowns on its citizens abroad reflect MBS’s intense desire to control the narrative — in any and every form — about his rule. The crown prince has spent millions to project an image of himself as a reformer and visionary for a burgeoning Saudi renaissance, but his rule has been marked by increasingly autocratic tactics both domestically and abroad.
The story highlights the problematic role of embassies. They have privileged status and have immunity from many of the laws that apply in the countries that host them. But what should be done when they become places of outright criminality such as murder, kidnapping, and torture? It may be that the only recourse is to shut down the embassy entirely and withdraw all its personnel. It may be time to do that to Saudi Arabia. It deserves to be treated as an international pariah state.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
Yeah, I think their use of embassies as a lure for murder victims and a location at which to commit murder is sufficient justification to close down any embassy in the US. On the other hand, “International Pariah State” implies quite a bit more than merely not allowing a KSA embassy on your nation’s ground.
What would we do to treat them as a pariah state? Deny trade with them? Can you really see the entire world refusing to do business with the world’s largest exporter of petroleum? Maybe they deserve that, maybe they don’t, but I don’t see how you could practically get there with every government in the world involved in the oil trade.
I also think that Russia -- while it may or may not be using its embassies as lures for murder victims -- is engaged in equally bad behavior, and the behavior of the US on the world stage is also comparable: our government routinely murders and tortures.
Should the USA be made a pariah state?
There really aren’t many times we’ve tried the pariah strategy, North Korea being the only one I can recall that lasted any length of time. Pariah status hasn’t helped reform the PRK. If other countries treated the US as a pariah, it would make my life difficult as a Canadian permanent resident of USA origin, and though I’m not arguing that my personal circumstances have international implications, of what value is it to allow me to go back and forth between the countries? Does that help being more awareness of the US to Canada (or would it if Canada had no journalists in the USA, consistent with pariah treatment)? Does it help bring necessary anti-violence voices back to the US when things get heated and internal protest is important?
I don’t know. I’m with you on shutting down the embassy -- which itself is so radical I can hardly believe I’m agreeing, but abusing the law of embassy to create abattoirs has moved me over that line -- but for multiple reasons, I don’t think I can agree on the pariah state idea.
Reginald Selkirk says
I am curious about Turkey’s claim to have audio and video of Khashoggi’s murder. Did they have the embassy permanently bugged, or did someone take in a device? Or did they hack Saudi surveillance?
@1 Crip Dyke
There really aren’t many times we’ve tried the pariah strategy, North Korea being the only one I can recall that lasted any length of time.
Cuba from the US view?
Considering Saudi behaviour, kidnapping the Prime Minister of another country and forcing him to give a resignation speech, even if he did have dual Saudi citizenship, has to be about as bad as it gets.
For some reason, I suspect that P.M. Harari and a lot of other Lebanese are not big fans of Mohammad bin Salman.
Yeah, they do.
Apartheid-era South Africa. Worked so well you’ve actually forgotten it happened.
The pariah strategy is also being tried (although without full international cooperation) on Israel.
@2: Apparently Khashoggi turned on his Apple watch so that it could broadcast whatever happened in the consulate.
You belie your screenname, “naturalcynic”.
“Apparently”, Turkish intelligence need an explanation of why they have audio and “partial video” footage of something going on in a foreign consulate on their soil, and “uh… he was wearing an Apple watch” is the best they can come up with.
I mean, I’m prepared to believe that the Saudis are a bunch of nasty, violent barbarians on the basis of, you know, every single piece of evidence I’ve ever seen. Much as I’d like to, much as it would make me feel better about the world, I’m not prepared to believe that they are so stupid that they’d not recognise an Apple watch for what it is and what it can do and confiscate it before torturing and killing the wearer.
It’s going to be a lovely kick in the balls for the UK if, just as we’re trying to deal with the massive self-inflicted clusterfuck that is Brexit, we have to additionally deal with the fact that the price of oil has quintupled. I wonder if they’ll call the global recession/depression the “Khashoggi Crash”.
I hope I live to see the day, which is inevitably coming but perhaps not in my lifetime, when oil is obsolete and we no longer have to give a flying shit what Arabs think about anything. What a simpler, safer world that will be.