Six Months On From Jamal Khashoggi's Murder, The West's Relationship With Saudi Arabia Is Just As Toxic

Mohammad bin Salman has fallen out of grace with the world’s leaders – the exception of course being the US president, who continues to give him the benefit of the doubt.
PA Wire/PA Images

Six months before Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, the Saudi crown prince was fêted across America as a modern day reformer.

Not only was Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) warmly welcomed by Donald Trump but Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and umpteen political leaders were also wheeled out to press the flesh.

But six months on from the journalist’s death and all that has changed.

Now nicknamed Mr Bone Saw, MBS has fallen out of grace with the world’s leaders, the exception, of course, being the US president who continues to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Most of us agree, however, with Senator Lindsay Graham, who famously described the crown prince as a ‘wrecking ball’.

“I think he’s crazy, I think he’s dangerous”, he said. “There’s not a smoking gun , there’s a smoking saw.”

Another senior Republican, Bob Corker, used an analogy that all Americans could relate to when he said that it would take a jury just 30 minutes to find MBS guilty of ordering Khashoggi’s murder.

Senator Graham went on: “I will not look at the (Saudi) kingdom the same way, I will not support arms sales… until all those responsible for the death of Mr Khashoggi have been brought to justice.”

When a journalist asked if that included MBS, he replied firmly: “Yes.”

This is the situation which remains to this day.

A month ago, senators were expressing their dissatisfaction with the failure of the White House to hold MBS to account, despite US intelligence concluding he ordered the killing.

Trump has refused to abide by The Magnitsky Act, passed by the Senate and requiring him to produce a report on the killing within 120 days which targets those responsible with sanctions.

Trump’s view is that it’s not worth falling out with an ally over one dead journalist if it’s going to screw up billions of pounds worth of arms deals.

Germany’s Angela Merkel doesn’t agree, and cancelled all weapons contracts with Riyadh in the wake of the murder, putting her at odds with Britain and France whose own defence deals rely on German parts.

Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, had been extremely effective at calling out MBS in newspaper articles and at conferences around the world for being a ‘fake’ reformer, criticising the kingdom’s treatment of women activists, civilians in Yemen and record on free speech.

But by silencing Khashoggi, MBS clumsily trampled on something which every US senator, and every citizen, holds dear: free speech.

Not only that but his victim worked at the heart of the American media establishment: The Washington Post, which has a proud history of taking on big beasts when it published stories such as the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

Having the president stand by him has, ironically, made the backlash against MBS even worse: it made the mainstream anti-Trump media even more determined not to let this lie.

As you’d expect, Saudi Arabia and its allies have tried to hit back claiming Khashoggi was working for their enemies.

One panellist at a Washington conference organised by Middle East Forum went so far as to say that he “wasn’t even a journalist”, as if it was therefore somehow OK that he lost his life.

Instead, his detractors said he was ‘an agent of Qatar’. These were the same people who at the time said his death was a lie being peddled by Qatar. That was until the Saudis had to admit they had indeed murdered him.

There is little doubt that the opprobrium heaped on Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s death has put MBS on the back foot. It has brought the semblance of a peace deal in Yemen, although at the moment this only affects the port of Hodeidah. Last weekend, three women’s rights activists were freed from jail and there are hopes that the release of the eight who remain behind bars will follow.

But for all its righteous indignation when others don’t play fair, Saudi Arabia is still the country that likes to break all the rules when it suits it.

Last week it emerged that the Saudis had reportedly hacked the phoned of Washington Post owner and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and leaked his private messages to the National Inquirer, which published a story of his affair. It’s clear that MBS considers the Washington Post to be a major enemy,” said the investigator Gavin de Becker.

The Post maintains that until MBS accepts blame for the murder, the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia will remain broken, which could be why MBS has since the killing still not visited the West, save for one G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

Instead, as if to show he is not alone, he has visited countries like Pakistan and India, bearing billions of pounds worth of aid, which their ailing economies desperately need.

It remains to be seen whether the West can be so easily bought.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail


What's Hot