Saudi Arabia’s reputation has never been this bad. Ever since Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman became the de facto ruler of the Kingdom and consolidated his power, things have gone from bad to worse.
Bin Salman started an unnecessary war in Yemen, which has become the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. He created a blockade on Qatar, which was totally unjust. He detained the prime minister of another country and, although Saudi Arabia denied this, in an interview with BFM TV French President Emmanuel Macron said, “I remind you that a prime minister was held in Saudi Arabia for several weeks.” The Crown Prince also detained businessmen and other members of the royal family in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, thereby creating the image of a Kingdom ruled by a sadist. He has arrested rights activists, demonstrating his government’s repression. Latterly, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, highlighting a new episode of Bin Salman’s viciousness.
Saudi Arabia has produced a number of explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance and killing; all have avoided any hint that the Prince might have had something to do with it. None of the Saudi statements has been acceptable, not least because it is hard to believe that fifteen senior officials could fly to Istanbul in two private jets, go to the Consulate, commit the crime and fly back to Saudi Arabia without the knowledge of the head of the government in Riyadh. It was revealed from Turkish sources that the alleged leader of the hit squad called Bin Salman’s office while Khashoggi was in the Consulate. Why would he do that if the Prince was not aware of what was going on?
The murder of Khashoggi “amounts to an act of state terrorism,” former US State Department official Charles W Dunne told me. “It’s a sign that the Saudi decision-makers’ repression of political opponents and independent voices has reached a dangerous new level.”
Despite after all of this, Washington seems reluctant to condemn the heinous crime. Nevertheless, “The Trump administration has to demand answers,” added Dunne, who is now a non-resident fellow at the Arab Centre in Washington DC. “It can no longer be ‘business as usual’ with an increasingly erratic ally.”
According to Yahya Assiri, the founder of AlQST, a UK-based Saudi rights group, the hope in Saudi Arabia is based on projects. “These projects must be freedoms, human rights and ensuring people’s participation both politically and in monitoring the performance of the authorities.”
Assiri explained to me that the first step for anyone who wants to save the country is to punish the person behind the killing of Khashoggi. “Then we must see the unconditional release of prisoners of conscience with their freedom guaranteed. Finally, the war in Yemen must be stopped. It has become one of the major tragedies in the world.”
Although Bin Salman has made some concessions recently, such as the release of Prince Khaled Bin Talal a few days ago – and we may see more to come — these seem to be designed solely to absorb the increasingly amount of pressure on him. It is now very obvious that the world can no longer turn a blind eye to what he is doing. His actions have damaged Saudi Arabia’s global image. If the Kingdom is to be saved, someone else must take over; it is time for a new leadership.
It would be disastrous if the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder are not punished. “Impunity, without accountability, is a terrible sign that we are on our way to living under the law of the jungle,” Rami Khouri pointed out. The commentator and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut added that the Middle East autocracy has to be held to account for what has been done.
There is no doubt that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has sent a chilling warning to all dissidents, both inside and outside the Kingdom, about what the current regime can do. However, that shouldn’t stop us from urging other governments, including our own here in Britain, to put values and the rule of law above commercial considerations in how we react to Mohammad Bin Salman’s excesses.