Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has been dissected by the world’s press, perhaps none more so than in Turkey, where the journalist met his grisly fate. Fresh information is still being leaked about his final moments inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. In a recording of his murder, Khashoggi can be heard putting up a fight. He orders his killers to release him and warns they’ll be brought to account. But will they? Or are there bigger fish to fry? And what is Erdogan hoping to achieve by making life uncomfortable for Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Khashoggi has been described by some as a Saudi dissident. Turkish media say he saw himself instead as a ‘proud patriot’ who was homesick as a result of his self-imposed exile. Yet despite this, he was already forging a new life for himself. He was planning to get married and to split his time between Washington and Istanbul, while he launched a pro-democracy group to provide a counter narrative in the Arab world. It is this initiative that seems to have doomed him to his fate.
Marked man or not, one could argue that, through his death, Khashoggi has shed much light on Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the killing, Turkey acted quickly in eagerly jumping on events in an attempt to sideline the rival kingdom in an ongoing geopolitical battle. It also had the not unwelcome side effect for Turkey of shifting focus away from its own questionable record on human rights. Headlines in Turkey have repeatedly toed the government’s line, questioning where the order to kill Khashoggi came from. And all fingers are pointing towards MBS.
The narrative of what happened inside the Saudi consulate has shifted many times. From denial to ‘accidental death’ following a fight, before finally a partial admission was made that he had died in an extradition gone wrong. Turkey is in no doubt that his death had been ordered. In recordings that have been released, one of the alleged assassins, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, is heard telling someone over the telephone, ‘the deed is done’. Mutreb, a security officer, is described as having been close to MBS and his now ousted advisor, Saud al-Qahtani. For many, this was enough to suggest that the order to kill came from the very top.
The latest set of audio leaks which have just been released have only increased suspicion about the role of the Saudi government. Hurriyet Daily News, which publicised the tapes and, like most newspapers still being printed in Turkey is close to the country’s government, claims that there is irrefutable proof that MBS was involved. It alleges that the CIA is in possession of a phone call recording of MBS giving an instruction to ‘silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible’. If so, this makes Donald Trump’s decision to spring to the defence of MBS even more bizarre. In his statement, Trump acknowledged that MBS “could very well” have known about the killing, but added, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t”. Trump’s refusal to blame MBS has been matched by Washington’s eagerness to avoid upsetting the Crown Prince: so far the only punitive measures taken by Washington is the sanctioning of some Saudi officials for their role in Khashoggi’s murder. But can Trump’s stance hold? In light of the latest allegations, dissenting voices are gaining strength, with the US Congress now demanding an investigation into whether or not MBS did play a role in the murder.
Whether MBS is to blame or not, Erdogan is relishing having the upper hand over Saudi Arabia. Under the thin guise of the continuing search for truth in the Khashoggi Affair, Turkish media is casting a net of intrigue around the so-called reformer. The government appears to be fully backing this, as it serves a much greater purpose; to improve Turkey’s ailing international image. In the seven weeks since Khashoggi was murdered, Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen and the plight of millions of its starving people, has been broadcast across the world. MBS has also found himself fall quickly out of favour in the eyes of a media which not too long ago adored him. He’s now being describe as ‘toast’ or ‘toxic’ rather than the man who could reform Saudi Arabia.
In making life difficult for Crown Prince over the water, Turkey is playing a skilful game. It’s drip feeding information about the death of Khashoggi to keep it fresh in the public domain; fuelling media coverage. By doing so it achieves three goals: to drive a wedge between the US and Saudi Arabia; to destabilise MBS in his position as Crown Prince; and more importantly to allow Turkey and its president, to claim, rather incredibly, the moral high ground.