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A murder most foul

By Raoof Hassan

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

The brutal murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi poses a huge challenge to the world conscience. Will there be a concerted effort to unfurl the reality behind the grisly incident, or will the dollar-based relations scuttle the bid for truth?

After over two weeks of flat denials of knowing anything about what may have happened to Khashoggi, and insisting that he had left the consulate, the Saudis finally conceded that he was killed as a result of a ‘fist-fight’ with those who were handling him. This was, more or less, in conformity with the projected Saudi cover-up effort in response to massive international indignation and uproar.

The counter view, which is also supported by the Turkish investigators, is that Khashoggi was tortured inside the Saudi consulate and his body was decapitated. It is also claimed that the Turks have a 7-minute audio recording of the grisly murder as it was being executed which they are planning to make public.

The Saudi admission has been met with as much incredulity as its initial protestations of not knowing anything about what had happened to Khashoggi.

The showcase investment conference in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert”, has already lost most of its lustre and significance. The US Treasury Secretary has decided to stay away as have the ministers from France, Netherlands, Germany, UK and other European countries. The IMF Chief Christine Lagarde has also pulled out
Republican senator, Lindsay Graham, said that “to say that I am sceptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr Khashoggi is an understatement.”

Democratic senator, Jack Reed, who is also a member of the senate armed services committee, said that the Saudis were still unwilling to come up with the truth: “This appears to have been a deliberate, planned act followed by a cover-up”.

The veteran journalist, John Simpson, tweeted: “Sorry, Saudi Arabia, but I find it very hard to believe that Khashoggi died in a fist-fight, given that you sent a small army to Istanbul armed with a bone-saw. And I don’t somehow think it’s enough to sack a bunch of officials when the crown prince himself is accused of murder”.

A former head of the MI6, Sir John Sawers, weighed in that all available evidence suggested that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince was behind the death of Khashoggi and the cover-up theory that rogue elements in the Saudi military were responsible was ‘blatant fiction’.

The showcase investment conference in Riyadh, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’, has already lost most of its lustre and significance. The US Treasury Secretary has decided to stay away as have the ministers from France, Netherlands, Germany, UK and other European countries. The IMF Chief Christine Lagarde has also pulled out of the conference along with a number of Western business leaders and media groups.

The dangerously disruptive and brutal role that Saudi Arabia has played internally and in the region has been the cause of international censure for some time now. The level of this brutality has increased manifold since the induction into power of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. His ascension itself was the cause of much divisive debate as it broke the decades-old traditions that the royal family had strictly abided by in elevating its rulers.

But the manner in which he started taking hold of the Saudi affairs and stamping his manic approach have caused fissures even among the well-wishers of the kingdom. His imprisoning of a number of Saudi princes to extricate dollars and the humiliating treatment meted out to the visiting Lebanese Prime Minister, who was kept hostage for a few days, are examples of the mind-set that rules the kingdom today.

Regionally, its open hostility towards states including Syria and Iran has never been a secret. Acting in collusion with other powers, it has destabilised their governments, thus providing space for terrorist organisations to move in.
The war Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen has elicited outcries from all international rights organisations, for its brutality and immense collateral damage including killing of innocent children. But, its thirst for blood has shown no signs of abating.

The massive investment it has made in advancing the cause of a strict Wahabi brand of Islam is also not a secret. Pakistan has suffered immensely at the receiving end of its investments in a number of seminaries which indoctrinate impressionable minds in the benefits of a rigid and inflexible form of religion. This is principally meant to win over followers in other countries dependant on the financial largesse coming from the kingdom.

Tolerance for dissent has never been a hallmark of the Saudi model of governance. Opponents are reported to disappear at random. Its judicial system has been a subject of much critical debate while beheadings are carried out in full public view much to the angst of the world.

Yet, its oil- and dollar-rich economy has saved it from international sanctions. It has cleverly manipulated its natural riches to the advancement of a despotic and out-dated system of governance that works solely to the advantage of a chosen few of the royal family. But, with disruption caused to a traditional and orderly upward movement in the ruling family hierarchy, there are fears that peace in the kingdom may now be at stake.

While the rest of the world looks on expectantly, much may depend on how the US moves forward in the matter. President Trump may be unwilling to sacrifice the inflow of dollars from the kingdom which is necessary to keep the US armaments industry chugging along. Only the most recent order from Saudi Arabia has been worth a wobbling $110 billion.

This is in addition to the close business relations that the Trumps have traditionally maintained with the Saudi ruling family. Consequently, it appears that the US may proceed to accept the cover-up in exchange for continued strategic alliance and further business and financial rewards. That would be a monumental tragedy impacting the way the rest of the world may respond to the incident.

The ‘fist-fight’ murder of a Saudi dissident in a foreign country may be the catalyst to further ignite the divisions within the royal family. Already, there are demands for side-lining the crown prince, and it may prove to be an essential price that the Saudi king may have to pay to keep peace within the royal family and the kingdom.

None may have fully penetrated the dark secrets of the kingdom, but the question that would naturally arise is whether it would be able to survive the aftermath of such an overhaul if it were undertaken?

The other question that resonates is best described in the words of the assassinated journalist’s Turk fiancée, Hatice Cengiz: “Where is Khashoggi’s body?” It is here that the Saudis may still have a lot of explaining to do which may further dent their preposterous cover-up story.