Burning issue

Cold-blooded Murder of Saudi Journalist has Shocked the World

Cold blooded and brutal killing of a Saudi journalist Jamaal Khashoggi by the Saudi Arabian Authorities inside its embassy in Istanbul (Turkey) on 2nd October has rattled the king of Saudi Arabia. He was not an ordinary journalist but played important role in the policy making of the Kingdom. As the editor of Al-Watan, he was one of the Chief Advisors of the monarchy. But why he became persona-non-grata of the King, nobody knows. Why was he physically annihilated is still not very much clear? The Saudi authorities firstly expressed their ignorance about his whereabouts and after two weeks of ping-pong, they accepted that he has been killed by a gang of goons. Now it has become clear that he was killed at the instance of the Sultan of Saudi Arabia.

Who was Jamaal Khashoggi and why his death has escalated tensions in many countries? Some counties have already announced their decision of not having any negotiation with Saudi Arabia on any issue after they have come to know that Jamal was brutally murdered by the Saudi police at the instance of the present king. Jamal enjoyed top positions in Saudi Arabia’s media houses but recently got himself relocated to America and a regular contributor to the Washington Post. Sixty years old Khashoggi was going to marry very soon as he had gone to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul to collect the papers of divorce from his first wife. Khashoggi belonged to the rich, and influential family of ‘who is who’ of Saudi Arabia. He was the nephew of Adnan Khashoggi, the notorious arms dealer of the world. He was the cousin of Dodi Fayed, who was known for his flirting with Princess Diana, the late wife of Prince Charles. Both of them were killed in a car accident in Paris while being chased by the Paparazzi. Dodi Fayed had even claimed before his death that Princess Diana was pregnant with his child.

Jamal Khashoggi was born in Medina. His grandfather Mohammed Khashoggi was of Turkish origin but after his marriage with a Saudi woman, he settled in Medina and became the personal physician of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the founder of the Kingdome of Saudi Arabia. Jamal Khashoggi had his elementary and secondary education in Saudi Arabia but obtained the degree in Business Administration from the Indiana State University of the USA. He started his journalistic career in 1983 and worked with many newspapers. He was the foreign correspondent of Saudi newspapers in many countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan in the Middle-East and in 2003 he became the Editor-in-Chief of the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Watan for a short period but wielded enormous clout in the government. He had a huge influence in the governments of Turkey and France. He was fired from the post of the Editor-in-Chief within few months because he had allowed a columnist to criticise the Wahabi School of Islam. His criticism to the radical Wahabi School of Islam brought reputation to him of a ‘liberal and progressive’ journalist in the western countries. Perhaps this was the reason that fundamentalist Islamic forces became fiercely hostile toward him.

But what made the Saudi Government angry with Jamal Khashoggi? A person who was a powerful advisor to the Prince, how could he become such a bitter enemy of the King that the Saudi Arabia’s present dispensation got him killed? After his relocation to the USA Khashoggi made blistering attacks on Saudi regime for its policies particularly its blockade of Qatar. He was also against the Saudi regime for having a dispute with Lebanon and Canada.  The Crown Prince was vehemently criticised for his crackdown on dissent and media in the country. However, he had vociferously supported some of the reforms undertaken by the Prince like allowing women to drive. He was highly critical of the arrest of some of the leading Women Rights Activists. Khashoggi had expressed his displeasure with the Prince for waging war on a poor country like Yemen but, strangely he was never in favour of peace with Israel. He had said many times in his commentary in the newspapers that ‘the longer this cruel war lasts in Yemen the more the damage will be. The people of Yemen are busy in fighting poverty, cholera and water scarcity and rebuilding their country. Therefore, the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman must bring an end to the violence”. He often used to make a fun of the Prince by calling him as a ‘boy’ and had compared his impetuousness and behaviour with that of Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Saudi Arabia was, initially, not ready to accept the death of Jamal Khashoggi but when Turkish authorities emphatically confirmed his death then the Sultan accepted that he was killed by some gangsters. The admission after many days of denials by the Gulf kingdom has come after Donald Trump threatened to impose sanctions if it was proved that the journalist was killed. But what has surprised everybody was the volte-face of Donald Trump, who now says that he cannot jettison more than 500 billion dollars of arms trade with Saudi Arabia because that will render lakhs of Americans jobless. So, for him, it is ‘America first’ rather than the protection of human rights of even the most influential journalist, who was associated with the newspaper of his own country. In order to cover up the tragic death of the journalist, the King (Sultan) has sacked Deputy Intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Royal Court Media Advisor Saud al-Qahtani, both have been the top aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been facing tremendous pressure mounting on him from the influential countries on the Khashoggi affair.

Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said Khashoggi died after “discussions” at the consulate devolved into an altercation, without disclosing any details on the whereabouts of his body. The government of Turkey, on the other hand, says that it was not only the cold-blooded murder of the journalist, but his body was chopped off in many pieces, stuffed in a bag to be thrown at an unknown place and later burnt by acids. The Attorney General of Saudi Arabia unabashedly told that the “preliminary investigations revealed that the discussions that took place between him (Jamal Khashoggi) and the persons who met him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul led to a brawl and a fist fight which led to his death, may his soul rest in peace,” this shows the duplicity of Saudi Arabia.

Now it is as clear as daylight that the journalist Khashoggi had to pay the price of his being the critic of the Islamic Petro-state’s powerful Crown Prince. His disappearance had initially been shrouded in mystery and that triggered an international crisis. Turkey was the first country to confirm that Khashoggi was the victim of a state-sponsored killing and dismembering of his body. Saudi Arabia says that all18 people, Saudi nationals, have been detained in connection to the probe. The Saudi king also ordered the setting up of the ministerial committee under the chairmanship of the crown prince, widely known as MBS, to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence agency and “define its powers accurately”. However, this entire exercise is being termed as ‘cover-up exercise’.

The controversy has put the kingdom- for decades a key Western ally and bulwark against Iran in the Middle East- under unprecedented pressure to offer an explanation to take the heat off its rulers. It evolved into a major crisis for Prince Mohammed, a Trump administration favourite who has portrayed himself as a modernising Arab reformer, but whose image and even position at home could now be gravely undermined.

The available evidence of CCTV footages suggests that when Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate, he was walking into a trap set by the same team whose members arrived on private jets from Riyadh the previous night. Khashoggi was never seen again, but the Saudis returned home less than 24 hours after touching down in Istanbul. The obvious but grisly conclusion is that the Saudis dismembered the dissident journalist and transported his remains in small packages back to the Kingdom. A single citizen’s disappearance, though, has raised a host of thorny issues putting in question billions of dollars of arms deals, energy supply and Saudi cooperation in America’s Middle East strategy, especially against Iran and with Israel.

The gory, gruesome and ghastly details of the last few moments in the life of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as reported in the government-controlled Turkish media, have reaffirmed the continuing validity of the universal truth: the pen is mightier than the sword. But the regime felt so threatened by Khashoggi’s dissident and heretical views that it felt compelled to liquidate him.

The murder of not many journalists has been taken so seriously by the world authorities as the murder of Khashoggi as many developed countries are going to take action against Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, other governments, which have belief in democracy, will also take lessons from this case and ensure the safety of such journalists as are critical to the powers that be. The journalist organisations all over the world including the Indian Federation of Working Journalists have expressed shock and condemned the killing of Saudi journalist.