Recently, a Saudi Arabian journalist by the name of Jamal Khashoggi went missing on the 2nd of October and was stated to be dead under perplexing circumstances and shifting stories on the 20th of October. This man, despite being from a famous family and being involved in and with the media for a long time, wasn’t very well known outside of the Middle East. The reasons for his death are murky at best, however looking at Saudi Arabia’s history when it comes to treating dissident journalists or critics, a clear answer presents itself.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate on the 2nd of October in Istanbul, Turkey. CCTV catches him entering the consulate but not leaving it, leading to him being declared a missing person. After rumours started spreading and international media outlets picked up the story, Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials decided on an inspection of the consulate on the 15th of October. Turkish officials during the inspection found evidence of interfering with the inspection and evidence supporting the rumours that Khashoggi had in fact been killed.
Oddly, 5 days after the inspection and 18 after his entering of the consulate and the Saudi’s denying his death, the Saudi government stated that Khashoggi had died in a fistfight inside the consulate. As a result of this, more information has come to light, including the fact that a team, numbering 15 men, had been sent in by the Saudi government to ‘confront’ Khashoggi. These 15 men and 3 others have since been arrested by Turkish authorities.
Saudi Arabia, as with essentially all totalitarian governmental systems, does not treat its critics or dissidents well. Disappearances, imprisonments, harsh punishments and even death are often the fates these critics and dissidents inevitably suffer from. And three Saudi princes who were living in Europe and were critical of the Saudi government, who disappeared between 2015 and 2017, are examples of the fates these people suffer.
Khashoggi, unfortunately, most likely upset the same systems of power as the three princes. He was critical of the government, its intervention in Yemen, its geo-political games and the corruption within the governmental structure and police. These criticisms rarely bode well for any Saudi national.
Khashoggi’s death may well have resulted from a fistfight within the consulate, but the fact the Saudi government tried to cover it up, the Turkish authorities found evidence of tampering, and a team of men were sent in to ‘confront’ him suggests otherwise.
And his death may lead to changes within and outside Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that little has happened as a result of the deaths, disappearances, punishments and imprisonments of many of Saudi Arabia’s other critics, the fact that Khashoggi’s death is so well publicized and well known puts the government in a precarious position.
Recently, Germany has halted arms exports to Saudi Arabia as a direct result Khashoggi’s death, and urged other countries to follow suit. And the Turkish government, through Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish president’s spokesman, has stated that this outright murder.
Also, Mr. Trump has stated that he is not satisfied with the explanation given by Saudi Arabia and is considering sanctions. These are all signs that international pressure, public pressure and international image are very powerful forces. Also, Germany, the US and other Western nations do have a commitment to uphold the virtues of critical reporting and condemn despotic acts such as this.
It’s teetering between likely and unlikely at the moment as to whether or not changes will manifest themselves within the Kingdom. These is a possibility that the government will be forced to capitulate to certain demands and changes, even if only to save face, especially as the situation evolves and changes if new facts are brought to light.
However, Saudi Arabia has often remained defiant in the face of international pressure, often as a result of the support it buys via its oil sales, geographical position and arms imports. But these previously held ‘get out of jail free’ cards may not prove as useful as they once were.
As a result of Fracking within the US, gas deposits that were once inaccessible are capable of being harnessed and utilized providing more gas to the US market lowering the bargaining power Saudi Arabia currently has. But, the US does still require a key ally in the region and Saudi Arabia is still the world’s third largest weapons buyer.
In the weeks, months and even years ahead it’s possible that the Saudi’s will implement serious and lasting liberalizing changes to its government, although this is very optimistic and unlikely. It’s also possible that the Saudi’s will use the same method other governments have used in the past and throw some government officials ‘under the bus ‘, make some speeches and continue doing the same things. Either way, the future will reveal all.