Murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Establishing the Motive

(CNN) Reports: Sources say Saudi journalist killed in consulate in Turkey. More clarification comes with (WaPo) Turkey concludes Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi killed by ‘murder’ team, sources say. Quoting,

Khashoggi first visited the consulate on Sept. 28 to obtain a document related to his upcoming wedding, according to his fiancee and friends. He returned to the consulate on Tuesday, at about 1:30 p.m., concerned that he might not be allowed to leave, according to his fiance, Hatice Cengiz.

So Khashoggi had presentiments of his demise. (Reuters) Saudi Arabia opens up consulate after journalist vanishes is more specific. Quoting,

A Turkish security source told Reuters that a group of 15 Saudi nationals, including some officials, had arrived in Istanbul in two planes and entered the consulate on the same day Khashoggi was there, and later left the country.

There are statements about security cameras pointing both towards and away from the consulate, but what they have recorded, if anything, is vague. Turkish police sources uses the word “believe”, indicating a higher degree of certainty than the published facts allow. In the conservative world of Western police work, a phrase such as “disappearance deemed suspicious” might be used.

Khashoggi probably was murdered in the Saudi Consulate. Tragedy though it is for the victim, our search is for motives and geopolitical implications. In this part of the world, where police diligence is strongly influenced by the politics, our first stop is the question:  With the choice of doing nothing, why are the Turkish police so aggressive? The answer could be the flip side of the Saudi motive to murder.

“Islamist” as a word applies to both Turkey and Saudi, but the actualities are so different, it cannot be very descriptive:

  • Turkey is a recently secular state that still claims to be secular, though the claim is withering before Erdoğan’s Islamist onslaught.
  • Saudi is the preeminent Islamic state, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to reform — which involves, to varying degrees, disengagement of the religious establishment from civil government, towards secularization.

Each country, starting from the endpoint goal of the other, is moving in the opposite direction. If geography were not in the way, this would be enough for a war. But crossing of trajectories is not enough motive for a murder, and Turkish assertiveness remains for the moment a mystery.

Could Khashoggi have anything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, an historic purveyor of intrigue in the Arab world? Whether he was a member is probably unknowable, but we may not need to know.  Brief mentions of the Brotherhood in the context of Qatar and the UAE set the context.

(Atlantic) The Muslim Brotherhood Is the Root of the Qatar Crisis lays it out. Quoting,

In fact, while the countries’ 13 demands of Qatar include a range of issues, the overwhelming majority are relevant to their ongoing concerns about Qatar’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, and reflect these countries’ desire to nip what they view as an existential threat in the bud….

Qatar is openly sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has hidden presence throughout the Middle East.  Conflict with the Brotherhood is best observed in the visible society of the UAE, the vanguard of Gulf reform. (Fanack) UAE and the Muslim Brotherhood: A Story of Rivalry and Hatred offers a compact chronicle of suppression. Quoting,

Throughout the 1990s, a plan called ‘drying the springs’ was implemented to exclude Islamists from public office and restrict their activities in the public domain. No Islamists were spared, including those who had no known affiliation or those who were affiliated with apolitical groups such as the Tabligh community.

In Qatar, Saudi, and the UAE,  fine gradations of religious belief have resulted in extreme political polarization. Turkey is the exception, apparently unafraid of the Brotherhood as a subversive religious import. This is likely due to Erdoğan’s Islamist onslaught, which absorbs religious impulses that would otherwise manifest as subversion.

A devoted specialist could spend days reading Khashoggi, looking for hints of hidden knowledge dangerous to the House of Saud. But what did Khashoggi write about the Brotherhood? Quoting from (WaPo Global Opinions) Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable,

…Columnists close to the Saudi leadership repeatedly demanded that Islamists be “eradicated.” It’s no secret that the crown prince despises the Muslim Brotherhood, yet it is actually a strange contradiction to identify a person as a Muslim Brotherhood activist….

Bosh! It was always repressive, but nobody dared. But the words, repeated twice! It’s not just the opinion, but where it appeared, in one of the two most important newspapers in the U.S., read all around Capitol Hill. The Saudi conclusion: The Muslim Brotherhood has a mole on Capitol Hill.

(Independent)Trump says Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ‘would not last two weeks’ without US support. Given the stalwart support of the Trump Administration for Prince Salman, why is the threat of Khashoggi so dire as to justify murder? The Saudis are aware that in the American political system, radical shifts are possible with each new administration:

  • Without American munitions, which have been used in the Yemen air campaign in possible war crimes, Iran would gain a foothold on the Arabian peninsula. The GOP tends towards realpolitik, but a second term for Trump cannot be assured.
  • In the recent past, the Dems have supported pluralistic religious elements, recognized the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a legitimate political entity, and have been generally more concerned with the moral provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act.

If the Dems win the next election, Khashoggi, a relatively-harmless wordsmith, could gain the ear of the high and mighty in Washington. Having identified the fear, we have the motive. Khashoggi was killed over his writing for the Washington Post.

There remains a dangling thread in our murder mystery – the Turkish motive  for assertions of murder. The Brotherhood, essentially an Arab movement, has no traction in Turkey. Turkish sympathy for the Brotherhood in the foreign context is weak. So why have the Turks bothered?

(Middle East Institute) Saudi-Turkey ties take a turn for the worse offers vague suggestions of regional rivalry, but the final paragraphs get specific. Quoting,

Against its own long-term interests, Turkey is allying with Iran to weaken the Kurds in Syria, keep them out of the peace process, and in effect strengthen the Syrian government. The Saudis have opposed the Syrian government for years, trying to diminish the growing influence of Iran and Syria in Lebanon, which was traditionally an old ally of Riyadh.

It seems the assertive Turkish investigation of the alleged murder of Khashoggi, which probably happened, is just to annoy the Saudis, a tiny widget in a regional Rube Goldberg machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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