Why you should care
Because one of the most prominent critics of the ruling Saudi regime may have been murdered.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? A journalist and prominent critic of the Saudi government has gone missing. Jamal Khashoggi, a former advisor to the Saudi royal family and current Washington Post columnist, disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week. Despite graphic details leaked by Turkish authorities that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents, no evidence of his death has yet been provided. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said she accompanied him on Oct. 2 to the Saudi consulate to finalize documents for their wedding. She waited outside the building for him, but he never emerged.
What are people saying? The Washington Post is leading calls to uncover the truth, calling the incident, if true, a “monstrous crime.” Saudi Arabia has denied all allegations around the disappearance, maintaining that Khashoggi left the building through a back entrance, and said it would cooperate in an investigation. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Saudi Arabia must prove Khashoggi left their building alive. Local authorities say they plan to search the consulate for clues, and that Saudi officials are amenable to the search.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
More reformer, less revolutionary. The 59-year-old journalist has a career spanning nearly 30 years and was a respected critic of the Saudi regime. He studied at Indiana University before going on to report around the Middle East (interviewing Osama bin Laden several times) and becoming editor-in-chief of Saudi-backed Al-Arab News Channel and even an advisor to the royal family for a time. But after writing critically on the crackdown following crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, he left Saudi Arabia in self-imposed exile for the U.S., where he became a regular commentator on Saudi affairs and foreign policy for The Washington Post.
Global outcry. The U.S. and the U.K. have strong ties with Saudi Arabia and have embraced the crown prince, but some suggest this has empowered the nation to get away with several questionable moves. The public outcry in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance will likely spur more diplomatic pressure on the Kingdom. Thus far, President Donald Trump has said he was concerned about what he’d heard, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Saudis to investigate.
Keeping up appearances. Khashoggi’s disappearance, and Saudi Arabia’s suspected role in it could make it impossible to reconcile Mohammed bin Salman’s image as a reformer and modernizer with such a harsh reality. Critics have already decried a wave of attacks on dissenting voices, including women who may be facing the death penalty for their activism. Khashoggi himself said government repression had worsened under the crown prince, who’d courted Western minds by lifting a ban on cinemas and allowing women to drive.
Protector of journalists? Turkey is in the unusual position of protesting the treatment of a foreign journalist on their soil — after having spent the last two years jailing journalists and shuttering independent media. As of December 2017, 73 journalists were in the country’s prisons — the most of any country in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And in March, 24 more journalists were sent to jail for alleged links to a failed 2016 coup against President Erdogan.
WHAT TO READ
Saudi Arabia Wasn’t Always This Repressive. Now It’s Unbearable, by Jamal Khashoggi in The Washington Post.
“My friends and I living abroad feel helpless. We want our country to thrive … We are not opposed to our government and care deeply about Saudi Arabia. It is the only home we know or want. Yet we are the enemy.”
‘Our Hands Can Reach You’: Khashoggi Case Shakes Saudi Dissidents Abroad, by Ben Hubbard in The New York Times
“Even for a country that has long used fear and enticements to control dissent, the prospect that the state had killed a well-known dissident writer in a foreign country represented a startling escalation.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi ‘disappears after consulate visit’
“Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia last year as the government began its recent crackdown on dissent, arresting clerics, intellectuals, activists and businessmen.”
Watch on Al Jazeera English on YouTube:
Activists demand answers on Khashoggi’s whereabouts
“We demand from the international community to pressure Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Bin Salman to tell us exactly what happened inside the consulate.”
Watch on AFP on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Bad blood. Turkey and Saudi Arabia were not on good terms even before the current imbroglio. One particular low point this year came in April when Mohammed bin Salman referred to Turkey as part of a “triangle of evil” alongside Iran and Islamic extremists. In fact, strained Saudi-Turkish relations go back centuries, to when the Ottoman Empire had control over holy sites within the Kingdom.