Will the Khashoggi case be covered up?

Translation: Mert Erinç, Cansu Şafak, Sinan Akgünay, Edgar Şar, Alphan Telek, Aylin Yardımcı.
Subtitles: Elif Akbıyık
Edited by: Melissa Clissold

Will the Khashoggi case be covered up?

Hello, good day and good week. It has been 13 days since the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Consulate in Istanbul, and there is an ongoing stream of articles, speeches, and statements following the incident. Nevertheless, the fact that such a significant event has yet to be brought to light raises serious questions, which is why I have designated the title of this cast as the very valid question: Will it be covered up?

We are actually faced with something very difficult to cover up, as the overwhelming majority of those investigating and expressing opinions on the incident within the international area, seem to have reached the consensus that Khashoggi was interrogated and killed, in fact, tortured and most probably removed from the Consulate with his body dismembered. Of course the main sources of this information are the so far from unnamed Turkish officials, security personnel and perhaps administrators. It started with Reuters, and later, statements were made to leading Western newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times, in which the same picture was conveyed: “Yes, he was killed inside, and in fact we have some evidence of this which we have shared with the US and Saudi authorities. Such a significant event cannot be perpetrated in isolation; it must have been approved and instructed by high officials in Riyadh.” It was these statements that subsequent commentary and speculation was built upon, though certainly the Saudi government’s record has contributed to this as well; particularly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s actions since his appointment.

There are only a people who are surprised that Salman gave instructions such as this one. There is an impression that he can do it because of incidents such as the detainment of Lebanese Prime Minister in Saudi Arabia, of the arrest of many people from the royal family and businessman as well; even torturing them in luxury hotels. As a matter of fact, this destroys the reformist image of Salman. Honestly speaking, if Jamal Khashoggi was not a columnist for The Washington Post, if Khashoggi was a person who did not have close relations with think-tanks in Washington and politicians once in power, and of course if he did not have close relations and contacts with President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other politicians who had important posts in the power, this case may have been covered up.

But there is a strong insistence by Turkey and especially by the US for revealing the case. The president of the US follows an unsteady position: First, he said he was concerned about the case, and then he said that he would not permit Saudi investments, valuing 100 billion dollars leaving theUS. Lastly, he said that he directly talked with the King and that he sent the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to Saudi Arabia and that they want a quick and just inquiry about Khashoggi case. It is a complicated situation but it is clear that Trump does not want bad relations with Saudi Arabia.

So an official, whose name was not shared, said in an official media organ in Saudi Arabia, that they will respond with tit-for-tat against threatening remarks. He blackmails people by saying that if something bad happened to Saudi Arabia such as if sanctions were imposed, they would change their policies, this would increase the power of Iran, and oil prices would increase. That Saudi Arabia would do all these is not simple but Saudi Arabia is a country that has a certain power and it does not move alone. It moves with other Gulf countries except Qatar. We are in an interesting and complicated situation

In fact, this applies to Ankara too. Ankara does not want to take a stand against Saudi Arabia either. It is clear that President Erdoğan, who recently had a phone call with the Saudi King, is not willing to totally break away from Saudi Arabia, despite having sided with Qatar during the Gulf crisis. Turkey does not want to break away from Saudi Arabia but at same time makes an impression that it wants to shed light on the incident, which interestingly gives leverage to Turkey in bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia. Put differently, Turkey seems to prefer that proof is provided by the West regarding this brutal murder that was committed due to an order coming from Riyadh. However, the West has left Turkey to it and it seems unlikely that Turkey will try to prove it alone because a Turkish-Saudi joint commission was established to investigate the incident. Then, the tragic photo that shows people, who were to clean everything up, getting to the Consulate long before Turkish security forces and judicial authorities. What will come out of this? Totally unclear…

What we are confronted by here is as follows: As emphasized by a piece in The Economist recently, Turkey hosts many Arabs, most of whom are dissidents in their home countries: Syrians, Egyptians. And as the case of Khashoggi has shown, there are also dissidents from Gulf countries in Turkey. All these, who are under the safe-keeping of Turkey, are worried by the Khashoggi incident. When I talk to people from those circles, I found that they are concerned and doubtful. Therefore, if Turkey is willing to continuously pursue this policy, the Khashoggi incident should not be covered up.

If the Saudi Arabian administration were publicly condemned regarding the Khashoggi case, the other Arab dissidents – especially the Saudi dissidents – would possibly feel safer. However, if the case were covered up, it would be clear that Turkey is not a safe haven for them anymore. What does it mean to cover it up? If there’s a cover-up, there should be something in return. In that case Turkey will be regarded as a country where anybody having enough money can practice any sort of extrajudicial killings as they wish. Now, Ankara has a very tough task at hand. On the one hand, they need to solve this case but on the other hand, they have to maintain Turkey’s relationships with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. They need the economic benefits, which can potentially be derived from this case, but at the same time they strategically need to reassure the remaining Arab dissidents in Turkey of their safety. It doesn’t seem possible to do all these things at once. Hence, Ankara may have to make some choices. If they opt for covering up the case somehow, there are various ways to do this. Today, for example, US President Donald Trump said that it could be the act of some plotters. So we can see conspiracy theories such as “He might have been killed in the Consulate, however, by forces who want to put Saudi Arabia in a tight spot”. Alternatively, the Consul General or the 12 Saudi officers may be sacrificed as the culprits of this case, acquitting the Saudi administration of the crime. Various methods can be used to cover it up. However all the options other than revealing that it was a planned assassination within the Crown-prince Salman’s knowledge, would indicate a cover-up, and won’t satisfy the public opinion, especially the Washington Post, regarding the case.

The existence of The Washington Post indeed serves as the insurance of the soundness of this probe. Of course, many will think that the Saudi regime may “buy” the Washington Post, and convince it, but I don’t find this possibility to be very reasonable. From what I see, many news and opinion pieces are being published every day, and in many of these, the Saudi regime, and especially crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is being questioned very openly and directly – albeit with certain reservations. Therefore, it seems like he will not be able get away with things very easily.

But why did he enable this murder, which would obviously cause very grave consequences? Why would the Saudi administration commit this murder? In Turkey and abroad, many different scenarios and interpretations are being offered. But one of the things many people agree on is their belief that the Saudi regime will be able to get away with this. Perhaps a widespread opinion is that their money and petro-dollars give them the power and liberty to do whatever they please.

And they were thinking that, especially in the era of post-truth following the right-wing populist wave in the West and Trump’s presidency, this would be easier – but from what we see up until now, this was a wrong estimate. I think they made a big mistake, a strategic mistake. They were wrong to think “this issue will not build up, they will believe us, and they won’t come down on us”. But the fact that they made a mistake might not mean that they will not pay a heavy price.

Coming back to the covering up issue now – from what I see, if we leave aside the US media which is following the incident very closely, there aren’t many people aside from his close friends who are making an effort to reveal the truth behind this incident.

In a very short time, the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, in which I believe that he has been killed, has become a bargaining instrument for many powers. In the discussions regarding the issue, we see that the possibility of a person being brutally murdered is left in the background. Thus, we see that the possibility of a person being brutally murdered is used for bargains which are believed to be of greater importance. This increases the possibility of the incident being covered up or not fully revealed.

I read the articles his fiancée wrote for the Washington Post and for the New York Times. Indeed, these articles were perhaps the only writings which approached the issue from a pure humanistic manner. Especially, in her article in the New York Times, I observed a great sense of desperation and hopelessness. I hope that time proves both her and myself wrong. However, the realpolitik signals that the Jamal Khashoggi incident will somehow be left in the dark. Some aspects may be revealed or some actors make take responsibility; however the probability that the incident will be fully uncovered or those responsible for the incident will actually be revealed is decreasing. I should also note the Turkish public has lost attention towards the incident in a very short period of time. Actually, Turkey has become a heaven, or hell, for crises’. Each day we fall into a new crisis. Either a crisis of our own, a crisis right beside us or a crisis, as in the Khashoggi incident, which doesn’t primarily involve us but is global. As Turkey is a country which is tired of such crises’ the public don’t care. Perhaps, only for an hour, a day or a week. In a very short period of time the incident will be forgotten. Hence, I am sadly observing that not many people still care about Jamal Khashoggi. Yes, this all I want to say. Have a good day.

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