Public outcry from across the world against Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s ambitious son and heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman is increasing in the aftermath of killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an inveterate critic of the Saudi Kingdom and its style of functioning. Yet the key to the whole incident lies in geo-political game that is being played around the region by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
In Khashoggi’s death, Turkish President Erdogan sees an opportunity to score points against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both the Turkish President and the Saudi Crown Prince are not on the same page on the issue of religion and the region.
While Erdogan champions conservative Islam and is alleged to have some sort of links with the Muslim Brotherhood, an outfit which has been banned in Egypt and several other Islamic countries, Crown Prince is for the moderate Islam. He is trying to purge Saudi Arabia of Wahhabi and Salafi religious links. He argues that Wahhabism is a product of events in 1979 in Saudi Arabia, rather than the authentic spirit of Islam or the real face of Saudi Arabia.
The year 1979 refers to end of relations between Riyadh and Tehran and the establishment of Shiate theocratic rules in Iran. It was in this year, the Grand Mosque in Mecca was taken over by Saudi extremists, a major development which took place a few years after the assassination of reform-minded Saudi King Faisal, who had sought to reduce power and influence of Wahhabi clerics in the Kingdom.
To survive in the game of political power, the weak House of Saud, after King Faisal’s assassination, found it rational to abandon reformist move in order to win over the support of the Wahhabi clerics. But with the Crown Prince now gradually shifting levers of power towards himself while making his father and the current King just a ruling face, things have begun to change.
He wants to modernise Saudi Arabia and with this also banish Wahhabism from the country’s border. Backed by the US, the UAE and Egypt, Crown Prince Salman has emerged a rallying force in the Arab world.
However, in the brutal killing of Khashoggi, Turkish President Erdogan sees an historic opportunity to turn the table against Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Salman. France, Germany and the UK have asked Riyadh to come out clean on Khashoggi’s death. Since the death was perpetrated gruesomely against a fair-minded journalist whose only crime was to expose innards of ruling establishment of Saudi Arabia, the House of Saud will find it tough to save itself from barbed international criticism.
There is a fear that pro-Wahhabi lobbies spread across Islamic countries will leave no stone unturned to corner the Crown Prince. For this, the dyed-in-the-wool Turkish President’s move has also to be watched out as he is the one who is trying to milk the situation in his favour.
But in view of circumstances in which the ghastly killing took place, none is ready to buy an argument that it was an act of rogue elements from the Kingdom’s security agency and not that of ruling elites.
Question is how come rogue elements would indulge in a high-profile murder without permission from higher up authorities in the Kingdom? Who was unhappy with Jamal Khashoggi’s writes up--the Crown Prince or the so-called rogue elements?
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 was a “tremendous mistake.” He also said that his country was taking action to find out how Khashoggi died. Various media reports suggest that Jamal Khashoggi was attacked within two minutes after his entry into the consulate and was dead in seven minutes. Amid this, some Turkish officials close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have already claimed that the “speed” with which the journalist was killed showed that it was a “premeditated act.”
Perhaps they are not slapping allegations without evidence. Although, the Saudi Foreign Minister said: “Individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority.” Following this, 18 people, including Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide of the Crown Prince on the suspicion of their involvement in the killing of the journalist have been arrested.
Of them, as many as 15 have already been recognised by the Turkish officials as a part of Riyadh’s hit squad team which had come to Istanbul to finish off Khashoggi. Amid this, it would be right to say that when Turkey is trying to beat Saudi Arabia in the game of one-upmanship, there are chances journalist Khashoggi’s death doesn’t meet with true justice.