Following the escalation of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, many Arab elites, particularly Shiite elites, sided with Saudi Arabia, despite objections and reservations on Saudi policy.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman advocated for a reform taskforce that limited the abuse of the religious establishment and its restrictive role in social and cultural life. In addition, many applauded his move to allow Saudi women to drive after several decade long restrictions. Saudi Arabia has been and continues to be the last resort for the Palestinian factions when the grip is tightened on them.
The elites stood with Saudi Arabia and turned a blind eye to the structure of the regime. They anticipated for the development plans of the 2030 that present a rise in the economy if Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. They anticipated these projects that would move the Kingdom from a religious state that relies almost exclusively on oil revenues to a developed country that produces industry and science on par with the greater economies of the world.
The killing of a journalist is not a mere detail in a bigger picture. It is an unquestionable example of things to come much worse than mere murder. It is evidence of the state of the relationship between the people and those in power. Is it possible that Arab elites, especially opposition, in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq or any other Arab country still maintain a relationship with an authority, if this authority has proven that it cannot handle opposition? Much less residing outside the country and merely opposing with spoken and written word.
The bottom line is: An attack on an opposition journalist, whose weapon is only the pen, in every case, cannot be accepted or condoned whatever the case may be. Otherwise, we become accomplices to the crime. There will no longer be any value to our opposition to Assad’s regime in Syria, nor to Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard accused of killing the leaders of the March 14 revolution in Lebanon.
We cannot be silent, otherwise we will be providing justification and sending a message to our political adversaries in Lebanon that killing us could be a valid measure.
The disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, cannot be ignored by these elites. Because this issue and all that surrounds it reveal the true status of the Saudi citizen during the coming days of the countries anticipated advancement brought by the Crown Prince and his vision. It reveals that the regime in Saudi Arabia is taking a stark political turn towards centralization of its power and abusing it; treating all opposition as enemies regardless of their means.
It could have been the real and unambiguous news that Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate and secured all the official papers he had requested and left the consulate without being held accountable. The news itself would have been a sign of the Saudi authorities’ leniency with critics of their policy, and they were open to dealing with political debate and diversity without coercion or imposition.
The Khashoggi case was a test for Saudi authority, and it may have been a trap set by the Turkish authorities that they fell for. The information leaked by the Turkish media about the two Saudi planes that arrived in Istanbul and left on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance, as well as all information published about the Saudi security team that arrived and left on that same day, suggests that Turkish authorities had a prior knowledge of the intent of the Saudi authorities. Privy to this information, the Turkish authority may have had a hand in facilitating the crime committed hoping Saudi Arabia takes the bait and falls for the trap.
Oblivious of the magnitude and the repercussions of the event, the executioner as well as the facilitator fell into the trap. It wasn’t merely one of political blunder, but it was one that put into question the legitimacy of the regime in regard to its relationship with the Saudi people. Does the Saudi crown prince, who aims to propel Saudi Arabia to new heights through reform and globalization, seek to maintain the same hegemony over a silenced population?
The incident was not as much a political sin as much as it is a step backwards in the regime’s own project and what it promised for Saudi Arabia and the Arab World. The American and Western public opinion, as well, raised the issue of the disappearance or death of Khashoggi to the highest of concerns across the globe.
This is why the Khashoggi issue has put the Kingdom at a crossroads. Its leadership today is facing demands of a clear explanation of what happened at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and what happened to Khashoggi. This explanation is required by its supporters before others. The Saudi people and other supporters need an explanation as to what kind of citizen the regime is hoping for. What is the kind of future that is being sought for the country? Who will the people who fit in this vision be?
We know that the Syrian regime in particular, have killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and committed massacres with the aid of their Iranian allies and their militias with the aid of Russia. The allies of the Syrian regime covered their crimes, manipulated evidence, and silenced the opposition. However, these regimes are not held accountable by any public opinion or democratic authority due to the nature of their regimes. On the other hand, the allies of the Kingdom are, in general, are governed by democratic systems that cannot transgress public opinion without major repercussions on their future interest.
US President Donald Trump undoubtedly wishes to be able to close the Khashoggi case without damaging his relationship with Saudi Arabia. However, the reality is that he is unable to do so because of the enormous pressure put on by Congress and major figures of the Republican and Democratic parties. The United States wishes to pursue and unravel the case and perform the necessary sanctions against that regime.
The suggestion presented by members close to the regime of ending the old alliance with the United States in the case where sanctions are presented, can be described by the end of Saudi Arabia by no stretch of the imagination. The US-Saudi relationship is important for the US but it is an existential one for the Kingdom. It is enough that Washington knows all the military secrets of the kingdom, as they themselves, armed and trained the Saudi army and the majority of their security forces. Perhaps, it was only said as a threat to the over extension of the US and Western media that the Saudi’s felt spared no effort in demonizing the regime.
The Khashoggi case has caused irreparable damage to Saudi Arabia, and it exposed a deadly sin in its political discourse. The Saudi leadership must act to sort out these ramifications with extreme caution and wisdom.
It is the responsibility of Saudi Arabia to reevaluate the policies that led them to falling into this certain trap, through serious reflective measures that will save the future of the country. Saudi Arabia must maintain its position as a leader in the Arab world as well as a supporter of their causes, foremost of which is the Palestinian cause.