On 2 October , Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi entered a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, hoping to obtain documents for his upcoming wedding. He never came out again. Signs point towards a Saudi attempt to either detain or murder Khashoggi for criticizing Saudi policy. U.S. and Turkish officials told The Washington Post that audio and video recordings from the Saudi embassy prove Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered by a team of Saudi assassins. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic. You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured, and then murdered,” an anonymous official said. While the Turkish government is anti-Saudi, the United States is a firm ally to Saudi Arabia. Thus, the fact that U.S. officials stand by Turkish statements suggests that there is strong evidence pointing towards a Saudi-orchestrated assassination.
The Saudi Arabian government has a recent history of attempting to bait and abduct dissidents living abroad. Khaled bin Farhan al-Saud, an exiled Saudi prince in Germany, claims that Saudi officials plotted to abduct him just days before Khashoggi’s disappearance. “Around 10 days before Jamal went missing they asked my family to bring me to Cairo to give me a cheque. I refused,” Khaled reported, “over 30 times the Saudi officials told me to meet them in the Saudi embassy, but I have refused every time.”
“The case of Jamal Khashoggi, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Rami Khouri, professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut. “If it’s proven that the Saudi government is behind his disappearance, it would only be the most dramatic example of a trend that has been ongoing for at least 30 to 40 years, but which has escalated under MBS.” Since 2015, three Saudi princes have disappeared in Europe after criticizing the Saudi government.
In November 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman launched a purge of prominent princes, politicians and businessmen. Roughly 500 political rivals were swept up under the guise of anti-corruption reforms, helping the new Crown Prince consolidate power over the country. During the purge, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Saudi Arabia. He appeared on Saudi state TV and announced that he would resign, prompting concerns from Lebanon’s president and journalists worldwide that he had been kidnapped and forced to make the statement. When he left Saudi Arabia three weeks later, Hariri declared that he had suspended his resignation.
The disappearance of Khashoggi, in addition to frequent bombings of civilians in Yemen, has spurred U.S. senators to push for a halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia. U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected such a proposal, highlighting the importance of the recent $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom. Trump claimed that if the U.S. halted arms sales, another power such as China or Russia would fill the void instead.
Washington Examiner reporter Tom Rogan claims that halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia would, “bless Russia, invite worse human rights abuses, and undercut Riyadh’s modernization of its society and economy. Considering that all those outcomes are antithetical to U.S. interests, ending arms sales would be the antithesis of American realism.”
It is hard to imagine how halting arms sales could invite worse human rights abuses, considering that the U.S. presents no repercussions to the Saudi government for killing foreign journalists and bombing civilians. Thus far, the United States has done little to pressure Saudi Arabia over human rights abuses, and has chosen to defer to Saudi state-run investigations to determine any wrongdoing.
Saudi Arabia has done little to truly modernize under new Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman either. In June, the Saudi government legalized female drivers, but at the same time arrested over a dozen prominent women’s rights activists, trying some in a terrorism court, where they could face the death penalty.
If the United States and the rest of the world does not send a message, they will be enablers to Saudi Arabia, offering the government carte blanche to commit brazen attacks against civilians abroad. Realistically, Saudi Arabia relies on the United States as an ally to support and protect them against their Iranian rivals in the Middle East. The United States has enormous bargaining power to effect change in Saudi foreign policy. The only question is whether the U.S. government values an arms deal over civilian lives.
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