Saudi truth on Khashoggi killing the key to stability

  • The death of the journalist and the actions of the kingdom’s de facto ruler have sown uncertainty creating concern for China and its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 8:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 11:15am

The silencing of a critic of a Middle Eastern government would not usually grab international attention. But Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent journalist from Saudi Arabia and his murder at his country’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul was repugnant and raises questions about regional stability and promised Saudi reforms. Pressure on Riyadh to provide an account of what happened have not been convincing in the face of alleged evidence presented and leaked by Turkey. Despite all the clamouring for Saudi accountability and transparency, though, strategic interests will hold sway.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi mission on October 2 and never left. Only after 19 days, with the global spotlight bright on the kingdom and its heir to the throne and de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were denials of official complicity replaced by an admission that the journalist had been killed accidentally during a fist-fight and the announcing of 18 arrests. The prince on Wednesday called the incident “painful to all Saudis” and vowed to punish the culprits. Turkey, which is vying with Saudi Arabia for the hearts and minds of the world’s Sunni Muslims, had a dramatically different account through leaked media reports by authorities; a premeditated, state-sanctioned murder involving torture and dismemberment. But while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan corroborated the line, he omitted the specific details.

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The journalist wrote for The Washington Post, and US President Donald Trump has been under pressure to cancel a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia; he has refused, but on Tuesday his administration revoked the American visas of those implicated. Dozens of foreign speakers pulled out of a Saudi investment conference. Mohammed had cultivated an image as a reformer, but the murder drew attention to his jailing of critics and misadventures in Yemen and beyond.

Saudi Arabia’s oil makes it powerful and its rivalry with Iran ensures an alliance with the United States will remain strong. But Mohammed’s actions have also increased uncertainty in the region, a concern for China, which counts on stability for the success of its “Belt and Road Initiative”, its massive infrastructure project in Asia and beyond. Saudi truthfulness in the Khashoggi case is a must.