Okay so for those of you are uninterested in politics, this might be an unfamiliar name but Jamal Khashoggi has taken over headlines for unfortunate reasons. He was a Saudi journalist who recently became a dissenter of the Saudi regime. A disaster of a move, I know. But what is one to do when they have a conscience and a desire to write?
He had been a resident of the United States for a number of years, writing for papers such as the Washington Post, in self-proclaimed exile from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to his views about the political climate of the state. This was all amplified in the change of Saudi leadership in 2017. The new prince, Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS for short) has continued his father’s harsh sanctions on freedom for citizens (he did, however, remove the ban on women driving in Saudi – but that’s hardly a claim to sainthood).
So what happened?
Khashoggi was to marry a Turkish PhD candidate soon and went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey with his fiancée to get the appropriate documentation. His fiancée, Hatice Cegniz, waited outside the consulate for a number of hours before calling the police because Khashoggi never left the Consulate.
Right, so where is he?
Well, the Turkish embassy has been investigating this and found some troubling facts. Jamal Khashoggi never left the embassy so he must have been smuggled out and the Turkish (and now most of the world) believes he was murdered by a team of 15 Saudi intelligence operatives. The Saudi government has denied the allegations but the 15 officials were privately flown in and out of Turkey surrounding the time of the alleged killing. The operatives also brought with them a bone saw, and let’s be honest there aren’t hundreds of uses for a bone saw. So the theory is that he was dismembered and then removed from the embassy in boxes.
So he was a journalist and the Saudi regime wanted him out of the picture due to his dissenting nature. Why is this a big deal?
Right so before we delve into the human rights violations committed by Saudi Arabia and why the death of one journalist matters, it’s important to understand that the word of the Turkish Government shouldn’t be trusted implicitly. The majority of Turkish citizens are Sunni Muslims, the same sect of Islam followed by Iran. Now Iran and Saudi Arabia (a Shia country) have long been at odds over which religious sect is better, Sunni or Shia and through political and military action have polarised the surrounding Arab states. So, Turkey does have something to gain or a reason to condemn the actions of the Saudi Government. That being said, they’re probably right and numerous world leaders have come out to condemn the actions of MBS. Justin Trudeau has also confirmed that he has heard the tapes of Khashoggi’s death. Yikes!
Now I know we’ve all heard of Yemen, perhaps not the famine and civil unrest taking place there but maybe that there was that Emily Blunt/Ewan McGregor movie where they fished? Yep – that’s the one.
So since 2015, Yemen has been in a bloody civil war between the established Yemeni government and a rebel group called the Houthis. The Houthis were a group established in the early 90s that aimed to counteract the activity of the government, which they believed to be too closely aligned to the United States and Saudi Arabia. This, of course, comes close at the heels of the start of the Arab spring in 2011.
Remember when we discussed that Iran and Saudi Arabia hate each other? Well, both the government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels are being supported by Arab countries in the area in what can now be seen as a Proxy war. Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels while Saudi and an alliance of 10 neighbouring nations support the Yemeni government. The war has been bloody; at least 10,000 people have been killed, though that number could be higher.
The recent outrage around Jamal Khashoggi has really emphasized the role Saudi Arabia plays in conflicts in the Middle East, an issue which state leaders are now vocalising. The Saudi government has a great deal of wealth which they have used on the world stage to elevate their power, gained through the trade of oil.
Though Jamal Khashoggi was a political defiant, MBS may have made a profound mistake in his killing, ultimately exposing the greater levels of corruption and political interference that the Saudi’s liberally engage in.
Update: the CIA has isolated a phone recording from the men in the Saudi embassy in Turkey that confirms that someone wanted Khashoggi dead, and suspicions rest on MBS. The isolated recording had one of the Saudi officials saying “tell your boss” the job is done. Pretty hard to argue that was something unrelated and totally not evil. The CIA has passed this information onto the US government but what they will do with this information; how the US may even consider condemning Saudi Arabia is unclear. One move is to end the United States involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen. So this is important new evidence to say definitively that Khashoggi was assassinated but the connection to MBS remains tenuous.