The United States and Britain killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and faced no punishment. China has sent one million of its Uyghur population to forced ‘brainwashing’ camps and dismisses with contempt worldwide criticism. Saudi Arabia massacres children and starves millions of famine-stricken people in Yemen and yet stands tall in world fora. In this horror of rich and arrogant nation’s crimes, the killing of one journalist may look like no major matter.
The October 2 gruesome killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate underscores the despicable reality behind rules in world politics: The rich and powerful can commit war crimes, kill thousands of people and still strut around as civilised nations commanding respect. International law, rules, United Nations resolutions and sanctions are largely for third world countries like Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Iran.
But mark our words; Saudi Arabia will wriggle out of the crisis, as it has done in the past whenever it had been pushed into a corner. The monarchy loathes democracy and is no respecter of human rights. Even an innocuous tweet can land a Saudi national in jail. Yet every western nation courts its friendship, with an eye on the kingdom’s US$ 750 billion reserves.
Since Khashoggi disappeared on Oct 2, no Saudi citizen has opened her or his mouth to condemn the killing though the Saudi journalist was speaking up on their behalf to bring about an element of democracy into the one-family-led feudal form of governance. The Saudis simply say they believe that Khashoggi is still alive somewhere although in their hearts-of-hearts they know the ‘messenger’ was tortured and killed. They also fear the fate that befell Khashoggi, who was once a close advisor to the royal family, could befall them if they utter a word that does not go with the official statement.
A critic of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s reform process, Khashoggi was named the 2018 Muslim Democrat of the Year by the US-based Centre for Islamic Studies and Democracy. In his acceptance speech in April, he said Saudi Arabia’s rejection of democracy stemmed from a deep belief that absolute monarchy was the best way of governance.
Khashoggi said democracy in the region was under attack from salafists, extremists, and terror groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda and stressed that the only way out in the Middle East was choosing the path of democracy and getting over sectarianism. Khashoggi said the Gulf nations would keep opposing any democratic movements as the rulers believed that they were “hired by God” to save these countries.
These views also appeared in his regular column in the Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia does care about its world image. But instead of correcting its ways, it often resorts to hubris, threats and oppression.
In 2006, Saudi Arabia gave the Tony Blair government just ten days to stop a corruption probe launched by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. The probe began after evidence emerged that British Aerospace had paid 6 billion pounds to Saudi Royal family members as commissions, to secure a multibillion pound arms deal.
Fearingthe cancellation of the contract described as “the biggest [UK] sale ever of anything to anyone”, Blair invoked national interest provisions and stopped the probe.That was not the only occasion that Saudi Arabia had flexed his money muscle and political clout. In November last year, Saudi Arabia abducted the prime minister of another country. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh and kept incommunicado in an undisclosed location until France intervened and secured his release.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia warned the UN that Saudi aid to UN programmes would be stopped if it did not remove Saudi Arabia from a list of nations that had committed war crimes against children. Saudi Arabia has come under severe criticism in human rights circles for its war on Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, where children are caught up in a war that had, in addition to horror and destruction, brought about a famine described as the worst in one hundred years.
Saudi Arabia’s latest warning is aimed at US President Donald Trump, who is coming under Congressional pressure to take tough action against Saudi Arabia over the murder of Khashoggi. In a puerile bid to show that he was committed to value-based international relations, Trump initially said if the allegations were true, Saudi Arabia would be punished. When Saudi Arabia warned whatever measures the US would take would be met by more severe measures – meaning Saudis by curtailing oil production can let world oil prices shoot up to as much as US$ 400 a barrel – the US President yielded to pressure. He seemed to endorse now the Saudi Arabia’s narration that Khashoggi could have been killed by rogue killers during the interrogation that went wrong. He dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh for talks with King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad, may be to work out a way out of the crisis, and to ensure that the Saudi contracts, especially the arms deals, are safe. When urged to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Trump rejected the call, saying the Saudis would then go to Russia or China.
In a strange coincidence, the day Khashoggi walked into the consulate and into the trap set up by his killers, President Trump in an insulting tone told a campaign rally in Mississippi that Saudi Arabia and its King would not last “two weeks” in power without American military support and urged the kingdom to pay more for its own defence.
Trump meant business and wanted Saudi money, more of it. Trump’s first visit overseas as US president was to Saudi Arabia where he signed US$ 400 billion worth of deals, of which arms purchases accounted for US$ 110 billion. In all probability, the rich nations which salivate over Saudi billions will make sure that Saudi Arabia is left off the hook, may be with mild censure, though this does not augur well for a rule-based international order.
Though the Saudi king carries the title of the servant of Islam’s holiest places to give some legitimacy to the royal family’s claims for the divine right to rule, the rulers have long deviated from the Islamic principles of peace, justice, human rights and good governance. Can they justify the killing of children in Yemen as Islamic? Saudi clerics who are quick to condemn other forms of Islam as bid’a or latter day innovations, conveniently forget that monarchical rule does not conform to the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and the practice of his immediate successors, who upheld meritocracy and the spirit of democracy.