By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
27 November 2018
It is not the fact of killing of Jamal Khashoggi which has put such a negative spotlight on Saudi Arabia. Targeted killings have been done by various states and the Saudi state is no exception to this rule. Trump was absolutely right when he initially reacted to the killing by saying that Saudi Arabia handled it very badly. But then more than the mere handling of the issue, the manner in which Jamal Khashoggi was killed is truly reprehensible. For want of a better word, it was the very re-enactment of medieval horror. Not just murder a person, but dismember his body and then dissolve it into acid. It tells us that it was not just about eliminating an irritating columnist, but actually a statement of personal anger and hatred that the crown prince had for this Jamal Khashoggi.
This tells us about the nature of the state of Saudi Arabia itself: the state is personified and embodied in the person of Muhammad bin Salman, even though he is not yet the King. Anything critical of his policies is immediately perceived as a personal affront. Those who are trying to convince the world that it was not MBS but someone else who gave the order are only fooling themselves. No amount of spin is going to save the crown prince from the widely shared belief that the orders came from him and him alone.
The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is a landmark moment in the sense that it will always remind us that values that were held to be sacred like human rights, free speech etc. is no longer sacred anymore. If we see the issue closely, no one is talking about these issues anymore. Rather, there are only positions of self-interest. Trump has made it amply clear that this murder is not going to affect the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. He went as far as to cast aspersions on his own CIA report which indicted MBS. The reasons are very clear indeed. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest importer of US’ arms and the American establishment will not see its business interests getting jeopardised simply because a journalist was brutally murdered.
But that’s not all. There is a larger game plan with regards to Middle East and Saudi Arabia is going to play to an important part in this re-configuration of geo-strategy for the US. It is now becoming amply clear that the US is inching towards a war with Iran. Saudi Arabia, considered the key to the hearts and minds of the Sunni world, will be a key ally in this changing configuration. The recent Saudi closeness towards Israel is part of the same deal: both together with the assistance of the US, hope to decimate Iran’s ambition to become a major player in the region.
It is no secret that due to the disastrous US policy in the Middle East, Iran has become the major power in the region. Not just Lebanon and Syria, but Iran is now able to influence decisions in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan too. Russia and China are already chipping away at the hegemonic might of the US. In fact, it was the combined effort of Russia and Iran which saw to it that despite horrendous atrocities, Bashar al Asad was able to survive the US led coalition which was baying for his blood.
Ever since the Iranian revolution which overthrew the despotic Shah regime, Iran has been an eyesore for the United States. More importantly now, it has emerged much more powerful because of the Iraq war. But Iran is not just an irritant for the US. Muslim world politics has largely been an exercise for hegemony of the Muslim world between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The kingdom detests the republic perhaps more vehemently than the US. And that’s why one of the first acts of MBS when he became the crown prince was to blame Iran even for the medieval horrors of his own country. The US wants to destroy Iran and in this effort, the Saudis are more than willing to play their part, even to the extent of warming up to their ideological enemy the Jews. This is precisely the reason why Trump wants to save MBS: so that the geo-strategic and business architecture of the Middle East so painstakingly put together by Jared Kushner is not disturbed.
But if US is clear about its game plan and handles the situation accordingly, Turkey, on whose soil the murder took place, is no different. Right since the very beginning, Turkey knew the whole story of killing of Jamal Khashoggi. But its piecemeal information sharing and even then falling short of naming MBS on whose order the killing took place, only meant that it was also using the incident to play politics. Erdogan used the incident to pin down Saudi Arabia while at the same time entered into some kind of a financial negotiation with that country. No matter what happened in the negotiations, Erdogan’s sole point was to prove that the Saudis were morally bankrupt and therefore had no business being the leaders of the Sunni world. That mantle should rightfully rest on the head of Erdogan himself.
For some years now, Turkey has been trying to revive the aura of the Ottoman Caliphate and the glorious past of the Muslims. From cultivating deep friendships with Muslim world to rescuing a tiny country like Qatar from the arrogant gaze of Saudi Arabia to offering liberal scholarships to students from the world, Turkey is slowly but surely cultivating an image of itself through which it wants to wrest the title of the leader of the Muslim world from Saudi Arabia. It will not be a surprise if one day, Erdogan declares himself to the caliph of the Muslim world. Jamal Khashoggi incident gave him another opportunity to showcase to the Muslim world that they are in need of a new leader and that they should look towards him and not towards the criminal state of Saudis.
The criminal act of the Saudi state should have led to a larger debate about the absence of an atmosphere of liberal critique in much of the Arab and Muslim world. But then the tragedy is that most Muslim leaders themselves are so knee deep in this malice that they can only use the incident to earn some political points for themselves.
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