Saudi Arabia’s audacious sense of impunity was created by us
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MbS] rose to power in June 2017 to the sounds of western praise, ambitious slogans of hope and visions of historic reforms for the ultraconservative kingdom.
The multi-billion dollar charade reached all corners of the earth and MbS’ charm-offensive whisked western media off its feet, with many plastering the young prince’s face across their front pages and others providing a platform for him to propagate his new and improved revamp of Saudi Arabia.
For the western world, this dreamy episode concocted by MbS came to an untimely and somewhat offensive sudden halt on 2 October, when prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate came to a bitter end, after he entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul - never to return.
As questions surrounding the whereabouts of Khashoggi began to circulate, many naturally pointed toward Saudi Arabia, prompting Riyadh to come out all guns-blazing to defend itself. The kingdom summoned its most prominent acolytes and mobilised hundreds of thousands of fake bots - soldiers of its virtual social media army - to sing praise of the king and de-facto ruler, and slam any and everyone who dares indict the “Glorious kingdom” for the murder.
But as facts from the Turkish investigation into the crime leaked into the world media, questions turned to accusations and Saudi Arabia found itself between the hammer and the anvil, or in this scenario, a bone saw and a dead body. Just three days after the disappearance, a bold and confident MbS told US’ Bloomberg that Khashoggi had left the consulate after "a few minutes or one hour".
The following day, Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul opened up its doors after allowing cleaners to conduct a thorough clean of the murder scene to disprove any suspicions. "Talk of his kidnapping was baseless”, consul-general Mohammad al-Otaibi said.
Twenty days after Khashoggi was first reported missing by his fiance, the faces of Saudi Arabia’s 15 man hit squad had been published on all major platforms, including details of their arrival in Istanbul on a private jet, the exact times of when they entered and left the consulate, and most poignantly, their links to the Saudi royals. Reports leaked by Turkish intelligence revealed the gruesome details of the murder, noting Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured to death then decapitated.
Despite the damning mounting evidence, the audacious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia maintained its innocence and instead claimed the killing was conducted by a group of rogue Saudi nationals who had been caught up in a fist fight with the journalist in the consulate. The group was not by any way operating under royal orders, Riyadh claimed.
The gradual shift in narratives came only after multiple corporations began to disassociate with Riyadh and pulled out of a major conference dubbed “Davos-in-the-desert”. Soon after, world leaders, including many vehement Saudi allies, were forced to follow suit in their public condemnations, many of which demanding transparency and answers. But Saudi Arabia’s sudden shoddy attempt at crisis management offers a glimpse into the kingdom’s planning, or lack thereof. The fact is, Riyadh pretty much invited world media into its own consulate, butchered it, and expected no one to notice because it did not anticipate the response it received.
Just south of the border, Saudi Arabia has been waging a controversial war in Yemen where more than 10,000 people have been killed. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have targeted markets, schools, weddings and even funerals - all of which constitute war crimes under international law. When - and if - the world takes notice, Riyadh issues a copy-paste style statement boasting its use of “precision strikes” and brands the deaths of thousands as technical errors or mistakes.
Earlier this year, Saudi authorities were accused of abducting the prime minister of Lebanon and forcing him to resign from the kingdom’s capital before later releasing him after international uproar. Hariri returned to his home, retracted his statement and the world moved without a hint of repercussions for the royals.
Dozens of human rights activists, including female campaigners have been thrown into the dungeons of the kingdom for merely calling for reforms in a state which has for the past year pulled the wool over the eyes of world. In August, reports confirmed a woman was among five human rights activists facing the death sentence on charges related to peaceful activism.
Rampant corruption and human rights abuse is a daily reality for many Saudis in the kingdom, where a climate of fear has bred millions of obedient and silent former dissidents unable to critique or even advise their government.
In an Amnesty report, the rights group accused Saudi Arabia of “restricted freedoms of expression” and noted "many human rights defenders and critics were detained and some were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after unfair trials..Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common,” Amnesty said.
For decades the Saudis have escaped responsibility for their actions by signing more and more multi-billion dollar deals with allies, who when prompted, deliver a mere slap on the wrist before turning a blind eye. The Saudi audacity to believe it could get away with killing a journalist of its own is due to the simple fact that world leaders and the international community has already allowed Riyadh to get away with a lot worse. And it knows it.
But the outrage and media attention offered to the case of Jamal Khashoggi is warranted and while his life does not outweigh those affected by Saudi war crimes, it has exposed and continues to expose Riyadh for its lack of credibility, blatant deception, outright senselessness, and audacious impunity.