Saudi Arabia, in an official statement, confirmed on October 19 the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. This occurred, the statement said, after discussions by Saudi officials with Khashoggi “did not go as required and developed in a negative way (that) led to a fight and a quarrel between some of them and Khashoggi. The brawl aggravated to lead to his death and their attempt to conceal and cover (up) what happened.”
Middle East experts and American officials — including President Trump — earlier confirmed the death of Saudi journalist and self-exiled U.S. resident Khashoggi. The world still awaits further details about his reportedly gruesome murder in the Saudi consulate October 2 and about anticipated Saudi prosecution and trials of the perpetrators.
A conference organized by Saudi Arabia’s ruling family including Prince Mohammed bin Salman to encourage foreign investment in the kingdom is now a mere shadow of its organizers’ hopes. Major invitees to the proposed October 23 gathering in Riyadh — including investors from Europe and North America — have declined to participate, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent several days this past week in talks with senior officials in both Riyadh and Ankara and returned to Washington to brief President Trump Thursday evening. That preceded the Saudi announcement by about 24 hours.
Turkish media have been unsparing in their accounts of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. Several major newspapers, including the pro-governmentSabah, have reported that a 15-member team from Riyadh flew into Istanbul just hours before the Saudi journalist visited the consulate to pick up a marriage license. Turkish media reported that the squad returned to Riyadh on a chartered private aircraft almost immediately afterward. Consular officials initially insisted that Khashoggi left the premises unharmed.
In Friday’s statement, the Saudi government said that it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of their investigation so far. Those fired included Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed, and deputy Saudi intelligence chief Major General Ahmed al-Assiri.
How Area Specialists View the Crisis
The Columbia University Press daily blog Gulf 2000 offers a variety of analyses of the Khashoggi case by prominent Middle East scholars and journalists:
- Mustafa Akyol: “The probable murder of the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khoshoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul unmasked the ugly despotism behind the reformist image of the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)…. The appropriate reform model for Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, might come from the reasonable constitutional monarchies of the region such as Jordan and Morocco, which are freer than most other Arab states. MBS, who apparently has tried to charm the West with his popular reforms such as allowing women to drive cars, must understand that modernity is not just about cosmetic social changes, but also about some measure of political freedom. That means not unabashedly killing your critics.”
- Hussein Ibish, as quoted by Orrin Schwab in Gulf 2000: “The political crackdown has already spooked foreign investors and created domestic capital flight, and the Khashoggi affair has discouraged economic engagement by the Western private sector.”
- James M. Dorsey: “Growing Western political and corporate reluctance to be associated with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Khashoggi crisis spotlights fundamentally different investment strategies and environments in the bulk of Asia and the oil-rich Gulf states, the continent’s westernmost flank… what differentiates much of Asia from the Gulf and accounts for its economic success are policies that focused more on social and economic enhancement rather than primarily on regime survival. That may be the lesson for Gulf rulers.”
- Graham Fuller: “The grisly details of the murder of Kashoggi by Saudi security goons in their own consulate in Istanbul have riveted global attention like few other recent stories. Not surprisingly, the lurid descriptions of this single case have far greater impact on public perceptions than the deaths of some ten thousand Yemenis — mostly civilians — in Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen — facilitated by Washington and London.”
Ending the Yemen Civil War – a Comeback Prescription?
It goes without saying that the sooner remaining facts about the Khashoggi death are officially cleared up, the better. Why not, as suggested in my earlier blog, a simultaneous and comprehensive re-energized effort to end the civil war in Yemen? That may even be the key to stabilizing the Arabian peninsula.
As U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a donor conference in Geneva earlier this year: “Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As the conflict enters its fourth year, more than 22 million people, three quarters of the population, need humanitarian aid and protection.” That’s in addition to the 10 million people, including combatants, who have already been killed in the civil war. More than half of Yemen’s territory still remains under the control of the Houthis and rebel factions.
VOA recently quoted a senior United Arab Emirates official as saying that his country and the Saudi-led military coalition which includes the United States supports a political solution in Yemen. In his words: “We fully support U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths efforts to encourage all relevant parties to engage in a constructive dialogue that could ultimately lead to an end to the conflict.” (He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media about Yemen).
It’s up to all parties to fulfill that goal. (The Houthi rebels recently failed to show up for mediation talks requested by U.N. negotiators). However, there is no time to waste. As more and more facts surface about those responsible for the death of Khashoogi, a speedy and comprehensive move guaranteeing a ceasefire in Yemen might be a significant stabilizer in the chaos gripping Arabia as a whole. A quickly arranged ceasefire led by Saudi Arabia would be a masterful public diplomacy act that could be the key to stabilizing Arabia and repairing the image of MBS.
This story is ongoing and will continue to be updated as more information is made available.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More