Jamal Khashoggi's Disappearance Must Be The End Of The West's Blind Tolerance Of Saudi Arabia

If the worst is true, Britain will have to respond in the strongest terms to this brazen act if it is not to be accused of gross hypocrisy

Details of the disappearance of high-profile dissident Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Istanbul make for grim reading.

Poignant CCTV captured Khashoggi’s fiancée waiting for him outside the front door as cars, which some have speculated could have been removing his dismembered body, whizz past her back and forth.

Riyadh claim Khashoggi left the consulate safely. But authorities are naive if they believe the world would fall for such cock-and-bull.

“My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure,” Mohammed bin Salman told a group of reporters the next day,

“My understanding?” “A few minutes or one hour?” “I’m not sure.”

This man need only click his fingers and exactly what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul would be brought to him in a matter of minutes.

So what was he thinking? All that hard work building up his country’s image as a progressive, reforming nation embracing the 21 Century. Cinemas opening for the first time in 35 years, women being allowed to drive and tourists being welcomed in.

Not to mention all those arms deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars which had Western leaders grovelling at his feet because of all those jobs they created.

All this undone in one instant.

Because if Saudi Arabia is not already vilified for its war in Yemen or the fact that women’s rights activists who dared to call for an end to the male guardianship system now face 25 years behind bars, then Khashoggi’s disappearance has sent it to the bottom of the world popularity ratings on par with Russia.

Already in America – the country whose support and approval MBS so covets - a group of senators is launching an investigation which will surely result in sanctions on the desert kingdom.

Khashoggi was not some firebrand Muslim cleric calling for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family, he was an experienced and intelligent commentator writing for a respected American institution, the Washington Post.

And he was actually quite supportive of MBS and the reforms, just not the way the new young leader was going about them.

But, as Khashoggi and those women’s rights activists have learned, only the authorities are allowed to suggest reforms. Anyone else is a critic who must be silenced.

And if the journalist could not be silenced at home by incarceration then he had to be silenced abroad.

Britain will have to respond in the strongest terms if it is not to be accused of gross hypocrisy.

It’s only seven months since the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the state-sponsored assassination attempt of the former Moscow spy, Sergei Skripal.

The British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has already tweeted his concern about what might have taken place and told his Saudi opposite number that friendships depend on shared values.

But no word so far from Theresa May, who’s going to need those Middle East deals post-Brexit and appears to be delaying her condemnation of Riyadh until she absolutely has to.

But the country whose response is going to be the most interesting is Turkey.

On the face of it you’d expect Ankara to use such ghastliness on its own soil as an excuse to put the boot into a country with whom it hasn’t been the best of terms recently.

After all, Turkey is close to Iran and has been a strong ally of Qatar ever since a Saudi Arabia-led diplomatic and transport blockade of the tiny Gulf state over a year ago, airlifting in food supplies into Doha ever since.

But the two countries are big trading partners and, in difficult economic times, Turkey will not want to lose financial support from the Saudis.

Sensing the mounting worldwide condemnation, President Erdogan has so far talked tough, telling the Saudis they need to provide photographic proof of Khashoggi leaving the consulate.

Nine days on we are still waiting, either for that or an explanation of what went on inside.

The fact that the journalist was not caught on any cameras being bundled onto a private jet at Ataturk Airport makes it unlikely that he was rendered back to Saudi for torture and interrogation.

Only the Saudis have the accounts of the 15-strong squad who flew in and out of Turkey that day, taking with them the hard drive of all the CCTV footage in the building.

Any delay in coming clean about what happened should be viewed as an attempt at putting off the opprobrium which will rightly be poured over Saudi heads when the truth emerges, if it ever does.


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