(CNN) Saudis confirm death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Quoting, the explanation is:
Discussions between Khashoggi and those who met him during his arrival at the consulate in Istanbul led to a quarrel and physical altercation, which led to his death, according to State TV.
This is not likely to be the truth, but it is nevertheless a remarkable admission, seldom seen outside the Western countries, and the scattering of highly developed Asian democracies. The Saudis have adopted the explanation of a “rogue operation” to shield those ultimately responsible.
No official definition of “rogue operation” exists. But since “rogue” is a character trait, it implies a small group without authorization from above. That meaning doesn’t apply here. 15 Saudis, including a forensic pathologist, flew to Istanbul on two Gulfstream corporate jets to do something nasty.
The presence on the Saudi team of a forensic pathologist anticipates murder, and the need to accomplish it without leaving traces at the scene. Whether the torture of Khashoggi was a personal or cultural expression of members of the “kill team”, or an adjunct to interrogation prior to his murder is decided by the lack of forensic evidence. To commit murder, and clean up the scene to the point that Turkish forensics is frustrated, requires great skill — as much skill as Turkish placement within the consulate of undetectable cameras.
If we stretch the word “rogue” to the breaking point, and we assume Prince Salman is a rational actor, we gain understanding of his environment, and how his personality interacts with it. When a leader attempts to radically change a nation, these intermediate states occur in the transition:
- The franchise loses traditional members as radical changes disadvantage members of the franchise.
- The franchise broadens to include members formerly without representation, disconnected from the power structure, and who lack value to the structure.
- Rifts appear in the power structure, as some members remain loyal to traditional, now disenfranchised elements.
- While attempting change at levels from the grass-roots and up, the new leader also maneuvers to remain at the top of the shifting pyramid.
- The leader tends to increasingly identify the self with the state. The self becomes indispensable.
- Disaffected members of the power structure acquire a kind of double vision loyalty to leadership, the image of the traditional role of office separating from the actual person.
- This double vision can result in replacement of the leader who more embodies the traditional role of the office.
(CNN)Saudi former diplomat called ‘pivotal’ in Khashoggi’s apparent killing. Did Saudi intelligence officer and diplomat Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb have a case of double vision, deciding himself to murder Khashoggi? Or was it Prince Salman’s decision? Given Salman’s age, either is possible. It is possible that Prince Salman enabled Mutreb, without actually approving the deed. The recent suppression of dissent, which has dismayed supporters of the prince, could have given Mutreb his inspiration to murder.
This is a pattern that in different proportions becomes almost universal. Bits of it can be seen in Hugo Chavez (early years) and Suu Kyi , however diverse they may otherwise be. In the absence of clandestine sources, it serves as a useful template. It does not exclude that Khashoggi was murdered on Salman’s orders, but it allows an alternative.
The contention of forces is unique to Saudi Arabia:
- The ancient desert tribes, with a continuous thread to the time of the founding of Islam. Conservative, reactionary elements isolated for centuries from the cosmopolitan.
- The Hejaz of the western coast, with a different, cosmopolitan history, and the potential of ferment, both social and political.
- The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, embodied in the Qatari outlook, and very real in the eyes of those who fear it.
- The core of the House of Saud, which seeks to rearrange all of the above as a modern industrial state.
Nothing in the above mix resembles the the typical post-colonial state, with Western affinities. Saudi Arabia was never a colony. That Saudi Arabia is susceptible at all to international pressure is in itself remarkable.
The acknowledgment of Khashoggi’s death omits the crime of murder. Still, it is a significant step of the belated Arab Renaissance.