The darkest clouds hovering over the slaying of a noted Saudi journalist at the country’s consulate in Istanbul are multiplying daily. However, the immediate question remains: what’s next, and when and where will the murderers be brought to justice?
To sum up latest developments:
- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the Turkish parliament Tuesday to confirm that the killing was clearly a well-orchestrated pre-meditated act and to urge that the perpetrators be tried in Turkish, rather than Saudi, courts.
- The New York Times quoted President Erdogan as saying: “It is clear that this savage murder did not happen at the drop of a dime but was a planned affair.” That was a direct rebuttal of an earlier statement in Riyadh that Khashoggi was accidentally killed in a fight with Saudi operatives in the consulate.
- Other questions to be answered, according to Mr. Erdogan: “On whose orders did a 15-member Saudi team fly into Istanbul? Why was the consulate not opened to Turkish investigators immediately that October 2? Who was the local collaborator who disposed of Khashoggi’s body?”
- Late last week — almost a fortnight after the slaying — Saudi Arabia did finally confirm the journalist’s death after the consulate initially suggested that Mr. Khashoggi left the building safely. According to Turkish media and Times correspondent Richard Perez-Pena, a team of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul October 2, and left the country just hours after Mr. Khashoggi’s fateful visit to the consulate.
- Saudi Arabia also announced that it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of their investigations so far. The world will be watching to see how public their trials will be. Among those fired: Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince and de factor ruler, and deputy Saudi intelligence chief Major General Ahmed al-Qassiri.
- Yet to be determined is whether the search by Turkish authorities of forests near Istanbul for Khashoggi’s body will turn up any evidence. Turkish press reports have speculated that Saudi operatives may have taken his dismembered corpse quickly out of the consulate for a nearby burial.
Peacebuilding Options Ahead
Grisly news indeed. But, as mentioned in my earlier blog item, the Saudis do have an opportunity to quickly propose peace talks with Yemen opposition factions to end the civil war there. The death toll of 10,000 in that largely ignored conflict and the possible starvation of millions more Yemenis has been termed by U.N. authorities as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The estimated loss of lives in the four-year-old civil war is intolerable. Immediate peace talks are essential.
Elsewhere in the region, there is hope for relief to thousands of Syrians affected by that country’s six-year-old struggle against Islamic state extremists. Last week in Washington, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened an 83-nation conference to focus on peace building and stabilization in Syria.
As VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo reported: “With the help of the U.S.-led coalition, Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces freed the Syrian city of Raqqa, the former ISIS de facto capital a year ago this month, after a four month long battle.
U.S. assistance has been instrumental as Raqqa begins to rebuild. Abdulsalam Hamasork of the Raqqa Civil Council, says: “The United States was a major force behind the liberation of Raqqa, and ever since, it has been helping us rebuild our city through funding various local organizations that work on different projects.
Stabilization efforts have helped 150,000 Raqqa residents return to their homes. “What we have in Raqqa,” Mr. Hamasork said in a phone interview with VOA, “has already been happening in other areas that previously were under ISIS rule.”
For example, similar U.S. aid to the beleaguered northern Syrian town of Manbij has helped, as well. Sadam al-Haman of the Manbij Media Center is quoted by VOA’s reporter Kajjo as saying: “This has encouraged more displaced people to return to their homes. With the cooperation of local forces, the majority of U.S. funding here goes to education and health programs.”
Distinguished Jordanian scholar Marwan Muasher, vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, cites the critical need for reform by most Arab governments. In the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Mr. Muasher counsels Middle East leaders at this possible transition point typified by the Khashoggi scandal and governance in Syria and Iraq. I would add Turkey to the list.
“If they respond to these shifting fortunes by tightening their grip on power and failing to implement meaningful reforms,” Muasher writes, “Middle Eastern governments risk unleashing social unrest on a scale beyond anything they’ve seen before. The only way around such a disruption will involve economic and political reforms that create a fundamentally new social contract in the region, one negotiated from the bottom up.”
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