by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 8, Safar, 1441)
Last year’s brutal murder of the Saudi insider Jamal Khashoggi had a mixed impact on the Bedouin kingdom. His crime was that he had turned on his masters in Riyadh who feared he might spill more beans about their misdemeanors than the tidbits he had revealed in his media columns.
From the regime’s perspective, the cost of Khashoggi’s brazenly barbaric murder was worth it. This is not because the journalist was a champion of free speech until his fallout with the regime. Khashoggi was one of the principal apologists and justifiers of the Saudi regime’s crimes on the international scene.
Provided a platform by the Washington Post for which he wrote a weekly column, Khashoggi did not pose any serious threat to the regime. Instead, he was seen as a threat because his example could motivate other insiders to turn against the brutal and corrupt royal family.
Many people have wondered why the Saudi regime killed Khashoggi in such a brazen manner by chopping him to pieces after luring him to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He could easily have been killed in a staged hit-and-run operation with plausible deniability. Or, the Saudis could have secured the help of their bosom-pals, the Zionists, who are masters at carrying out such operations. But they chose to carry out this dastardly crime on their own.
Many analysts explain Khashoggi’s murder by attributing it to Saudi stupidity and arrogance. While there is some truth to this, it does not accurately reflect the whole picture. Based on Crescent International’s decades of experience in reporting the regime’s affairs and talking to people both distant and close to the regime’s circles, our assessment is that the Saudis deliberately murdered Khashoggi in the manner they did. It was meant to send a message to potential defectors and the Saudi society at large.
Some people argue that the murder greatly damaged the Saudi regime’s reputation in terms of global public opinion. This is true. The regime’s survival, however, is not dependent on global opinion. It is backed and sustained in power primarily through Western military and political support, along with instilling fear in its own population.
Bani Saud rightly surmised that Western regimes would not use the human rights card against them as was the case, for instance, against Mu’ammar al-Qadhdhafi of Libya. The Saudi assessment was that it did not really matter what the BBC or Amnesty International (AI) said about their human rights abuses. These would only matter if such reports were utilized by Western regimes to launch a military operation against Riyadh. That is highly unlikely. Therefore, murdering their ex-insider pays off. It acts to discourage opponents inside the country and will discourage other insiders from defecting, seeing Kha-shoggi’s horrible fate.
The above analysis about Saudi brutality can be traced to Muhammad bin Salman’s (MbS) assumption of power. The case of prominent Saudi scholar, Shaykh Salman al-‘Awdah offers a clear example. Once MbS decided to impose a siege on Qatar in 2017 in order to punish the tiny shaykhdom, he expected every public figure to back his ill-conceived policy. When Shaykh Salman al-‘Awdah wrote on Twitter that he prayed to Allah (swt) to reconcile the hearts of the Qataris and Saudis and reconcile their differences, he was immediately arrested. It is highly unlikely that MbS follows al-‘Awdah’s Twitter account. What is more likely is that the crown prince had issued instructions to the Kingdom’s security services to immediately arrest anyone who dares to deviate even slightly from his policies.
Has this Saudi policy paid off? In the short term, the Western-backed Saudi kingdom’s brutal murder of Khashoggi has brought some benefit. There is no visible sign of any serious domestic dissent and dissidents abroad feel they are within the reach of Saudi security operatives and could be abducted. There have been several kidnapping cases of high profile dissident Saudi royals from Europe. They have simply disappeared.
In the long run, however, if the Kingdom faces internal instability, which is only a matter of time, the Khashoggi case will be used as leverage to ramp up the opponents’ media campaign against it. Once the Saudi kingdom begins to experience domestic disturbances, its brutal tactics will also limit the Western regimes’ from providing open support to a regime that chopped-up a journalist in its own diplomatic mission.
At the moment though, the backing of Western regimes to the Saudi brutes still brings in the much-needed cash to their semi-war economies. For example, last year at the peak of the Khashoggi case when it was still on everyone’s mind, the “Davos in the desert” economic event still went on, even if some Western executives stayed away. A year after the Khashoggi saga, Western countries and corporations are continuing to do business with the dark Kingdom. In May 2019, business insider reported that “global index giants FTSE Russell, S&P, Dow Jones Indices, and MSCI are folding Saudi Arabia’s stock market into accessible emerging-market indexes this year.” This and other economic indicators clearly show that the Khashoggi case did not have any significant negative economic impact on the Saudi regime. For Western regimes and their corporate affiliates, making money takes priority over all other considerations.
At present, it seems the primary challenge to the Saudi regime does not come from its domestic crimes, but from external misadventures. The Saudi humiliation in Yemen, its blunder with Qatar, and its poor relations with Turkey and Iran will sooner or later converge with the negative internal dynamics present in the Kingdom. Once external instability factors converge with internal ones, Riyadh will become a battle zone from which the royal family will not be able to escape unscathed.
MbS has created too many complex problems for the regime both internally and externally. Neither the US or Israel — patron saints of Bani Saud — can solve these easily. Thus, the Saudis are left virtually alone to clean the mess they have created. And they simply do not have the wherewithal to do so.
They have one royal mess on their hands!