Voices from the Arab press: The brutality of our regimes

"These blatant lies show that many news channels have very little regard for credibility or professionalism."

MOROCCANS HOLD portraits of former Moroccan opposition leader Mahdi Bin Barka during a candle-lit gathering in Rabat in 2002. (photo credit: REUTERS)
MOROCCANS HOLD portraits of former Moroccan opposition leader Mahdi Bin Barka during a candle-lit gathering in Rabat in 2002.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An-Nahar, Lebanon, October 16
Every now and again we are reminded of the brutality of Arab regimes. The recent kidnapping and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his very own government is a stark reminder about abuse of power. Khashoggi is certainly not the first to “disappear” due to his political activity.
I still remember the case of Mahdi Bin Baraka, a Moroccan political activist who went missing in Paris in 1965 during a visit to the city. While Baraka espoused leftist political views, he never posed a real threat to the regime of King Hassan II of Morocco. And still, the 45-year-old Moroccan disappeared from the face of the Earth one bright morning. Only a few decades later it was discovered that Moroccan intelligence, with the aid of French police, had killed him.
A different case that reminded me of Khashoggi is the disappearance of Mansour Rashid el-Kikhia, who served as Libya’s foreign minister and later as its ambassador to the United Nations. After defying the rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Kikhia mysteriously vanished in 1993 while attending a conference in Cairo. His body was discovered in Libya only two decades later, during the recent uprising, in the home of a former security official. It turned out that the Libyan intelligence services, together with their Egyptian counterparts, kidnapped Kikhia, interrogated him and executed him.
These are just two examples of hundreds, if not thousands, of similarly brutal cases. Arab regimes have long followed a practice of torturing and killing anyone who is perceived as a threat to the stability of the regime.
While Gulf states seemed to have refrained from this practice to date, things are clearly changing. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman in particular has been working on modernizing his country and improving its relations with the West. To this end, he introduced his national transformation plan known as Vision 2020, which seeks to promote democratization in the kingdom. Sadly, if Khashoggi’s fate is similar to that of Baraka or Kikhia, Saudi Arabia is still miles away from achieving true democratization. In fact, it would prove to be much closer to Bashar Assad’s Syria, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya than any other country in the world.
– Bassem Ajami
Al-Ittihad, UAE, October 14
The story of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi still lacks many details that are crucial in understanding exactly what happened at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi’s story has been distorted and manipulated by the media, especially the Qatari ones, in order to launch a malicious campaign against the Saudi royal family. The fabrications are multiple and successive.
The first is the claim that Khashoggi’s disappearance was inevitably a kidnapping. Not a single source so far, Turkish or other, confirmed this claim. This did not prevent political pundits from spreading the message that the Saudi government abducted Khashoggi. Some reporters provided details of the alleged killing. Others added imaginary references of torture. Several papers even went as far as claiming that the incident was recorded on Khashoggi’s smartphone watch, a fact that was later refuted by security experts.
Ironically, when it was revealed that all of this information had no grounding in reality, Al Jazeera and itssister stations quickly removed all of their tweets pertaining to Khashoggi from the Web, due to the fear of being accused of deliberate fabrication.
The second false story pertains to a group of 15 Saudi citizens who supposedly arrived in Turkey by private plane just before the incident in order to attack Khashoggi. However, it has now been revealed that these 15 individuals were Saudi tourists who came to Istanbul to travel, just as millions of other tourists do each and every year.
This did not stop reporters from accusing Saudi Arabia of sending a team of assassins to Turkey. These blatant lies show that many news channels have very little regard for credibility or professionalism. This is true even of newspapers like The New York Times and large news agencies such as Reuters. All of them jumped to conclusions without waiting for results from the joint Saudi-Turkish investigations committee. Instead of examining the data, monitoring the investigation, and searching for the truth, these outlets invented their own version of what happened to Khashoggi. Will they stop spreading their lies? Probably not. There are those who stand with truth and those who stand with deceit.
The UAE will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia in its battle against defamation.
– Abdullah bin Bejad al-Otaibi
Al Jazeera, Qatar, October 17
Within just a few days, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey gained widespread international attention and set all eyes in the global arena on Riyadh. There are many questions hanging in the air, but what we know for sure by now is the following: Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday, October 2, but did not come out the same way he went in. We also know that since he disappeared at the consulate, it is Saudi Arabia that is ultimately responsible for his fate.
Khashoggi’s case is of particular sensitivity to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for three main reasons. First, it is a humanitarian issue. Hiding, kidnapping or killing a human being on Turkish soil is a serious issue that the Turkish authorities will seek to investigate. Second, Khashoggi was a notable journalist who was in the process of marrying his Turkish fiancée and was thus in the process of receiving Turkish citizenship. Third, the use of a diplomatic installation to conduct illegal activity on Turkish soil is a blatant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which could be considered a breach of Turkish sovereignty.
For these three reasons, Ankara did not want this incident to go by unnoticed, so as to not create a precedent that allows these kinds of events to take place in the future. Erdogan does not want Arab states to settle their accounts with political opponents on Turkish territory, especially in light of the large number of political dissidents who sought refuge in Turkey following the Arab Spring.
Despite the severity of this event, the reaction of the Turkish authorities was composed and measured. The Turkish police released footage depicting Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate, in addition to surveillance videos of what appears to be a squad of Saudi assassins arriving in Istanbul that day. Furthermore, Erdogan announced the launching of a full investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance to understand exactly what happened. Finally, Erdogan internationalized the incident.  Instead of making it a Turkish problem, he succeeded in turning it into a truly global one. Much of this was achieved thanks to the global media, which devoted considerable attention to the affair.
It remains somewhat remarkable that Riyadh has provided such a faint account of the events, and simply pretended that the incident never happened. Saudi Arabia’s silence may have served it well in the past, but given the growing interest in Khashoggi’s fate, this incident may very well come back to haunt Riyadh and its relations with its allies in the West.
– Saeed al-Haj
Asharq al-Awsat, London, October 21
In the few weeks that have passed since the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, I came across a wide range of articles suggesting that a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world is simply inevitable. I would dare challenge this argument and claim that it is incorrect. Once the dust surrounding the Khashoggi scandal settles, Riyadh will continue to exert the exact same power it enjoyed to date. Similarly, its relations with key allies, including the United States, will be restored to normal.
Some might ask why I think so. The simple answer is this: When we evaluate power politics, it is important to always keep in mind countries’ strategic interests. Saudi Arabia is too vital a player in the eyes of so many global actors to be ostracized or shunned. In terms of energy, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer, surpassing every other OPEC country. On the military front, Riyadh’s strategic importance, especially in countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East, cannot be stressed enough. Religiously, Saudi Arabia is the pilgrimage site for over 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. Simply put, sanctioning Saudi Arabia will not only hurt Riyadh itself but also weaken most of the Western world.
Granted, the Turkish allegations about the killing of Khashoggi are alarming. They must be examined and addressed. Yet the investigation cannot begin by determining its final outcome. The world cannot punish Riyadh before reaching a final conclusion about what actually happened at the consulate.
This attempt to reach predetermined conclusions becomes all the more comical when we think about the high standards that Saudi Arabia is held to, compared to those of Iran. If an Iranian government dissident were to disappear in Europe, not a single country would have called for an investigation. I highly doubt we would have read much about it in the news. But that’s not the case when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Instead of waiting for the investigation to conclude, certain political powers, both in the Middle East and beyond, launched an orchestrated smear campaign against the royal house.
We must urge the Saudi authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, yet we should also ask ourselves who is standing behind the powerful effort to make Khashoggi’s disappearance the most burning topic on the global political agenda. In my humble opinion, this campaign will eventually lose its momentum and fade away. It won’t be long before this saga will come to an end.
– Abdulrahman al-Rashed