Killing Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia and its `Mr. Everything’ face the heat

The killing of dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a tale of trans-national crime, intrigue and murder. The botched up cover-up has shaken the world. Even as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia tries to stem the flow of accusations from enveloping him, his inner circle, including his top aide Saud al-Qahtani, stands indicted. The brutal nature of the killing, as highlighted by a series of leaks topped by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement accusing the Saudi Government of “savage murder” and mutilation of Khashoggi, has triggered revulsion that has so far not allowed the matter to be swept under the carpet. Not because of lack of effort, but simply because of the horror of crime.

Western governments, including the US, have a long history of treating the House of Saud with kid gloves, given their geopolitical realities. The human rights record of the Arabian kingdom has been abysmal, with executions, whipping and other medieval punishments still being carried out. However, world powers, keenly looking at the bottom line, have ignored all this. Indeed, the Prince was billed as a reformer, but his intolerance to dissent was displayed in the crackdown on the women’s rights movement and the arrest of many activists, including popular ones like Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. This triggered off the kingdom’s spat with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who criticized the arrests in August.

US President Donald Trump has vacillated in his response to the killing of a permanent resident of his country and columnist for Washington Post, but he seems to be hardening his stance. While some other nations have condemned the killing, many have maintained a diplomatic silence. The Saudi version of the killing, coming after a complete denial, has given credibility gap a new meaning. The death of the journalist can only have a meaning if it leads to reforms within the kingdom. This is a tall order, given the opaque nature of governance there.

(The Tribune, India)

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