In the wake of the widespread outrage over the involvement of the Saudi Arabian government in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has gone into full damage control mode. He has allowed Khashoggi’s eldest son Salah, who had been barred from leaving the country and was forced into a photo op with bin Salman a few days ago, to leave the country. bin Salman is also trying to placate the Turkish president,the person most dangerous to him because of his ability to release all manner of damaging information. After not saying anything for three weeks, bin Salman has now said that Saudi Arabia and Turkey must work together.
Speaking in Riyadh at the Future Investment Initiative conference, nicknamed “Davos in the desert”, the prince said all culprits would be punished, and that “justice would prevail”.
“The incident that happened is very painful, for all Saudis … The incident is not justifiable,” he said. “They will not be able to divide us as long as there is a king called King Salman bin Abdulaziz and a crown prince named Mohammed bin Salman, and a president in Turkey named Erdoğan.”
The crown prince’s remarks were made to a full auditorium of onlookers and guests who listened silently as he responded to a question from a moderator. He distanced himself from the 18 people alleged to have killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the consulate, and appealed to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as a partner. On Tuesday, Erdoğan directly accused some of the “highest ranked” Saudis of ordering Khashoggi’s killing, but avoided mentioning Bin Salman by name.
The idea of bin Salman bring those responsible to justice is laughable. We have to remember that bin Salman has been contemptuous of Turkey and Erdoğan in the past and has taken strong action against friends of Turkey, by blockading Qatar and supporting the military coup against Mohammed Morsi in Egypt.
The arrogant way that bin Salman has behaved in the past, including his wanton disregard for the lives of Yemenis, his brazen house arrest and forced resignation in 2017 of Saad al-Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, and the way he summarily arrested many rich businessmen and his fellow princes may come back to haunt him. Those people were accused of corruption but it is likely that bin Salman was getting rid of potential rivals in the process. There are likely many people within the kingdom who harbor deep resentments against him and may use these events to try and dislodge him from being the favorite and heir apparent to King Salman. The statement by a prosecutor in Riyadh that the Khashoggi murder was premeditated, contradicting an earlier story by the Saudi regime that it had been an interrogation gone awry, may be a sign of the counter-offensive.
bin Salman is likely to make some cosmetic gestures to deflect blame from himself. What should not be forgotten are all the other activists in Saudi Arabia who have been arrested or disappeared because bin Salman brooks no dissent whatsoever. Some foreign governments that have expressed dismay over the Khashoggi case should not forget them in the desire to restore normal relations
One thing that should be noted is that it seems like in order to get a visa to go to Saudi Arabia or get any other official paperwork done in that country, one has to personally go to a Saudi embassy or consulate, as Khashoggi did. I wonder what is passing through the minds of other Saudis who are currently living abroad, many of them students, who may be asked to come to a consulate to get their paperwork dealt with. Even if they have kept a fairly low profile, will they take the risk of meeting the same fate as Khashoggi? Will there be a large number who seek asylum in their host countries because they feel they have no choice?