Many have started to entertain the possibility of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman, being replaced by another member of the royal family after the controversial killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 59. The incident, which most likely took place on Oct. 2 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, has been all over the news for the past few weeks. A former advisor to the royal family and a progressive journalist in Saudi Arabia, Jamal Khashoggi, had gone into self-imposed exile in the U.S. after Muhammad bin Salman barred him from writing as a measure to censor his critics. However, Khashoggi continued to write in the U.S., becoming one of the prince’s most fervent critics. It is somewhat surprising that his death received so much public attention on a global scale, even though Saudi Arabia has been executing and jailing journalists and activists within the country for years.
While the outrageous incident has been all over the news, President Trump’s response has not been very convincing to many, as he had suggested that he would not allow a journalist’s death to get in the way of his government’s relations with Saudi Arabia.
In regards to the U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia, President Trump stated, “It’s the largest order in history, to give that up would hurt us far more than it hurts them. Then all they’ll do is go to Russia or go to China. All that’s doing is hurting us.”
Since 2010, Saudi Arabia has bought military equipment worth more than $18 billion from all over the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). With the newly introduced sanctions on China, Trump cannot risk the good relations with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, some American businessmen including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone and AOL founder Steve Case pulled out of the Saudi Arabian investment forum, ‘Davos in the Desert.’ The forum was still held on Oct. 23 in Riyadh, where crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is suspected to be closely connected to the killing of Khashoggi, was given a standing ovation. Among the crowd were investors and businesspeople from all over the world, telling the reporters that although what happened was a terrible incident, the ties they have with Saudi Arabia are too valuable to be broken off.
If we look at Europe, we might be able to observe a different response. While French President Emmanuel Macron suggested there should be no link between arm sales and Khashoggi’s murder when asked about possible responses France might have, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that “as long as [Khashoggi’s murder] is not cleared up, there will be no arms exports to Saudi Arabia. I assure you of that very decidedly.” In addition, the European Union’s (EU) parliament voted to ban all arms exports “of surveillance systems and other dual-use items that may be used in Saudi Arabia for the purposes of repression.” However, experts say that it is very unlikely that we will see a coordinated response from the EU, as France, the UK and Spain have given no signs of a response.
While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cannot risk shattering the relations between Saudi Arabia — even more so with the country’s recent economy meltdown — we see Erdogan on the other side of the table, trying to make the best out of the current situation by becoming the voice for free press while Turkey remains on top of the list of countries with the highest numbers of jailed journalists. Since the event took place on Turkish soil, Erdogan has the leverage to use information gained by the ongoing investigations. Furthermore, the way Turkey is keeping the public’s attention focused on the case by leaking one piece of information at a time shows that Erdogan wants to use the case as an opportunity to extract concessions from Saudi Arabia. If Turkish officials have recordings and documents that would prove the crown prince Muhammad bin Salman is responsible for the killing, as they claim, it would damage Muhammad bin Salman’s reputation and authority.
The killing of Khashoggi was the center of attention for the past month not only because it was an outrageous human rights violation but also because it was a violation of international law as it took place in a consulate. Now, the most discussed topic is the possible consequences Saudi Arabia will face, most importantly financial sanctions and halting or rolling back arms sales.