A well known truth
Saudi Arabia is ruled by a despotic, murderous, corrupt family regime ... which could not survive two weeks without US support. The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi shines a damning spotlight on the House of Saud, writes Yassamine Mather
The last week or so has not been good for the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.
First came Donald Trump’s public outburst on October 2 at a Republican rally in Mississippi, when he said that the Saudi monarchy would not last “two weeks” without American military support:
We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich? And I love the king ... King Salman. But I said, ‘King, we’re protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military.’
The Saudi response was muted, as one would expect from one of the United States’ main lackeys in the region. Trying to put a brave face on the situation, bin Salman said: “Ever since the relationship started between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, we’ve bought everything with money.”1
When the Bloomberg reporter pressed the Saudi crown prince on Trump’s humiliating rhetoric, bin Salman said, “I love working with him” and referred to the controversial remarks as a “bad issue” offset by “99% of good things”, implying this was just the kind of disagreement one sees within the family.
I am not sure about family relations in the Saudi royal household, but for most people public humiliation based on how much your survival depends on the generosity of another family member would be considered an insult. Of course, it is true that what Trump said in public is probably what previous US presidents have believed - proving once more that under the current world order the hegemon power is not even loyal to obedient allies, who spend a good proportion of their country’s income on US arms, as Saudi Arabia does.
Of course, if the reports coming out of Turkey are true, the Saudi royals have had other issues to deal with. Turkey has apparently concluded that a Saudi journalist, who disappeared during a visit to his consulate in Istanbul on the day of Trump’s Washington speech, was killed on the premises and that his body was then removed - at least according to an “official Turkish source” speaking to The Independent.2
Jamal Khashoggi - a long-time aide to prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi intelligence chief who became ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United States - turned up at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, seeking a document proving his divorce, the day before he was due to marry his Turkish fiancée.
But Khashoggi had criticised the new set-up in Riyadh. He had been warned by the Saudi authorities about his political writings against the crown prince and as a result he decided to remain in exile in the United States. In his last interview he had said he feared returning to Saudi Arabia, as other people who had criticised the regime had disappeared. In September 2017 he wrote:
Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable.
When I speak of the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds, and then I tell you that I’m from Saudi Arabia, are you surprised? ... all I see now is the recent wave of arrests. Last week, about 30 people were reportedly rounded up by authorities, ahead of the crown prince’s ascension to the throne. Some of the arrested are good friends of mine, and the effort represents the public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to express opinions contrary to those of my country’s leadership …
In November 2017 he compared the crown prince with Vladimir Putin. He also wrote about the corruption that is widespread in Saudi Arabia.
This aspect of his criticisms was of particular interest to Iran. After all, the Saudis fund at least two major TV stations based in London, which broadcast 24/7 in Persian and tell anyone who listens how terrible it is that there is such corruption in Iran’s Islamic Republic. No-one can deny the rampant corruption in Iran, but it is nice to know that at least in this aspect we are following a regional pattern.
According to Khashoggi,
Corruption in Saudi Arabia is quite different from corruption in most other countries, as it is not limited to a ‘bribe’ in return for a contract, or expensive gift for the family member of a government official or prince, or use of a private jet that is charged to the government so a family can go on vacation. Instead, in Saudi Arabia, senior officials and princes become billionaires, as contracts are either enormously inflated or, at worst, a complete mirage.
In his last column for The Washington Post he wrote about the war in Yemen - a project closely associated with bin Salman:
The longer this cruel war lasts in Yemen, the more permanent the damage will be. The people of Yemen will be busy fighting poverty, cholera and water scarcity and rebuilding their country. The crown prince must bring an end to the violence and restore the dignity of the birthplace of Islam.
We might never know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. For all we know, he might suddenly appear on a Saudi TV station praising bin Salman to the skies. But what witnesses have said so far is very clear. He entered the consulate on Tuesday October 2 at 13.30. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was waiting for him outside, but hours went by and he did not come out. The Turkish authorities have identified around 15 members of Saudi security in Turkey at that time. There is photographic evidence of a van belonging to the embassy parked outside the compound and the authorities seem confident that he was killed inside. However, they have not shared any information that corroborates this account.
According to a friend, “He told his fiancée if he didn’t show up after a few hours, call the Turkish Arab Media Centre and Turkish authorities.” And according to unnamed Turkish officials speaking to Reuters news agency,
They saw unusual personnel activity, including uncredentialed personnel, coming to the embassy almost immediately after Jamal Khashoggi’s first visit, so they think they were dispatched from Riyadh. And they speak of an unknown staffer, acting like he was moving out the embassy, packing stuff into his trunk, and leaving at the end of business the day Jamal Khashoggi disappeared. So they add up the pieces to infer that Jamal Khashoggi was incapacitated and spirited away.3
In fact there is a history of such Saudi disappearances. David Hearst, writing in Middle East Eye, reminds us of western double standards when it comes to such events, not to mention Saudi military interventions:
Jamal Khashoggi is not the first Saudi exile to be killed. No-one today remembers Nassir al-Sa’id, who disappeared from Beirut in 1979 and has never been seen since.
Prince Sultan bin Turki was kidnapped from Geneva in 2003. Prince Turki bin Bandar Al Saud, who applied for asylum in France, disappeared in 2015. Maj Gen Ali al-Qahtani, an officer in the Saudi National Guard, who died while still in custody, showed signs of abuse, including a neck that appeared twisted and a badly swollen body. And there are many, many others …
A Saudi plane dropped a US-made bomb on a school bus in Yemen, killing 40 boys and 11 adults on a school trip. Death is delivered by remote control, but no western ally or arms supplier of Saudi demands an explanation. No contracts are lost. No stock market will decline the mouth-watering prospect of the largest initial public offering in history.4
The entire event has been followed with some interest by Iranian journalists recruited by Saudi-financed TV stations. As I have said, the Saudi royals claim to be so concerned about the lack of freedom for the press and media in Iran that they have invested billions of dollars financing TV stations, two of them based in London, that broadcast to Iran. Both are notorious for their superficial and inaccurate ‘analysis’, which often reflects the views of one of the factions of the House of Saud.
Last week their Middle East ‘expert’ was telling viewers that Iran and Hamas are close allies. Now you do not need to be very well informed to know that Iran and Hamas have very little in common. One supports fundamentalist Shiism, while the other is aligned with the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. But do not let facts get in the way of a good story.
Clearly Jamal Khashoggi did not follow the line set by bin Salman and, alive or dead, he has paid the price. Yet Saudi ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ only tell Iranians what is wrong with their own rulers! No wonder the Islamic Republic survives this media onslaught - contrary to what the Saudi royals think, the Iranian people do recognise fake news. Unfortunately for those of us who oppose all factions of the Tehran regime, the new and ever expanding Saudi-funded media outlets only serve to strengthen it.