The brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has triggered dangerous repercussions for Saudi Arabia. Following the country’s formal admission of killing Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia has hoped the crisis triggered by his brutal murder will gradually de-escalate, but the future of the Kingdom and its Crown Prince is still murky, as he faces several challenges on various fronts. Here are four of them:
Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman -Via the National
The Turkish challenge
In an op-ed published Friday in The Washington Post, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, in a clear hint to the Saudi Crown Prince, openly stated that the order to kill Khashoggi came “from the highest levels of the Saudi government.”
His strong words were in stark contrast to his earlier softer stance. It is common knowledge there is no love lost between the Turkish President and the Saudi Crown Prince. However, the fact that Erdogan opted to write publicly in the American newspaper on which Khashoggi served as a columnist, indicates that he failed to isolate his nemesis or drive a wedge between the Saudi King and his son, the Crown Prince, as was widely speculated. President Erdogan clearly hopes public pressure will do what his quiet diplomacy failed to achieve.
However, the Turkish President’s words have triggered much criticism for his dualism: while Erdogan has exhibited a passion to achieve justice for Khashoggi, his own track record is flawed, with plenty of human rights abuses and attacks on press freedom. President Erdogan may seem stronger in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder, but the Turkish President is his own worst enemy. Sooner or later, his ideology and ego will sabotage his seemingly improved image.
The regional challenge
The Financial Times has published a report claiming Arab neighbours are hoping that the fallout from Khashoggi’s death “will lead the Saudi Crown Prince to temper aggressive policies that have unsettled the region since his ascent to power.” The report cited anonymous sources, including a “Gulf official” who expressed dissatisfaction regarding Saudi Arabia’s boycott of Qatar.
Undoubtedly there are deep concerns in some Arab capitals about the ramifications of Khashoggi’s murder, but evidence of a widespread desire to curtail the Saudi Crown Prince’s policies is hard to pin down. The Financial Times report seems to underestimate the close alliance between the Saudi Crown Prince, UAE’s leader Mohamed Bin Zayed, the Bahraini King, and Egypt’s President Sisi, and their collective agreement to counter Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by Qatar and Turkey. In Egypt, for example, TV anchor Amar Adeeb, who is regarded as close to the leadership of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, did not hide his displeasure at the idea of a reconciliation with Qatar, and appealed to Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed not to bow to external pressure.
Perhaps other countries such are not on the same wavelength as others, but their ability and, more importantly, their desire to counter the Saudi Crown Prince is not strong, to say the least.
The Western challenge
The Saudi Foreign Minister described the reactions after Jamal Khashoggi’s death as “hysterical”. The uproar has succeeded in undermining the image of the Saudi Crown Prince in many Western capitals, and it would be difficult for him to embark on a Western tour any time soon. A large part of this “hysteria” is a natural reaction to the atrocity of the crime. But the coverage of the case in the Western press reflects other reasons too. Khashoggi’s death came just a few weeks before the midterm elections of the US Congress, making the assassination an effective weapon in the hands of Trump’s opponents, who reject the rapprochement between the US President and the Kingdom, as Hussein Ibish highlighted in his latest piece. In other words, the Saudi Crown Prince is paying a high price, not only for the brutal murder, but also for his cosy relationship with the current U.S. administration. A decisive victory for the Democrats will have a huge impact on US-Saudi relations.
Internal domestic challenge
Two important news items have emerged from inside Saudi Arabia: First is the return of the Saudi Crown Prince’s uncle and critic, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, to Riyadh. The New York Times, Reuters, and the Financial Times reported that the prince’s return had sparked speculation about his role in the Kingdom’s crisis management efforts following Khashoggi’s murder. Second is the release of Prince Khalid Bin Talal, a nephew of King Salman, who had been locked up for 11 months for criticising a corruption crackdown in the Kingdom.
n a Huffington Post article, Akbar Shahid Ahmed wrote: “Away from the spotlight, members of the Saudi ruling family and influential foreign governments are quietly debating the crown prince’s future.” He added “Though the Saudi royal family won’t allow the rest of the world to determine its choice of crown prince, they understand the expectation of a change.”
The return of Prince Ahmed and the release of Prince Khalid indicate that the Saudi Royal Family is embarking on some changes to counter the unprecedented storm it is currently facing. It is unclear, however, how this change will affect the future of the Crown Prince. It is worth noting, however, that in addition to the foggy political scene inside the Kingdom, there is also a very murky ideological affiliation. Some Saudi elites share Jamal Khashoggi’s “soft spot” for the Turkish model and Brotherhood-inspired Islamism. Those individuals are silent opponents who are probably working behind the scenes to undermine the Crown prince’s power
Another important factor observers occasionally miss is that more than two-thirds of Saudis are under the age of 30. Those younger generations may not necessarily be supporters of the Crown Prince’s aggressive policies or Khashoggi’s brutal murder, but, at the same time, they welcome the social transformations within the kingdom and fear the return of the old guard, with their socially conservative doctrines. Those youth are possibly the ones hoping the Crown Prince will survive the crisis.
Khashoggi’s case and its repercussions confirm that the killing of dissidents does not serve any regime, but turns into a weapon in the hands of its enemies. It also proves the futility of economic reforms without political reforms that support them and reduce the ability of a country’s opponents to undermine it
The curse of the Khashoggi murder may continue to chase the Saudi Crown Prince for years. In addition to the reckless crime, the ambitious prince has made a big strategic error in which he created more enemies than friends. No wonder those enemies united after the crime seeking his head.
The future of the Crown Prince, however, will not be decided in Ankara or Washington, but in Riyadh_____ even if more gruesome leaks about the crime continue to emerge. Regardless of the Crown Prince’s fate, Saudi Arabia needs to transform the ordeal into a a new beginning, without bowing to Turkish blackmail, American pressure, or by reversing the Kingdom’s counter-Islamism policy, as the Democrats may wish to see. Instead, the Kingdom needs to learn the lessons of the crisis with much-needed wisdom, devoid of emotion and anger. With real internal political, social, and religious reforms, as well as transparency and justice for Khashoggi, the Kingdom can survive the storm. It is a tough journey, but it is not mission impossible.
An earlier Arabic version of this piece was published in Al-Hurra