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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/23/18

Khashoggi, the Saudis and the Arab Winter

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From LA Progressive


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The hope of the "Arab Spring" for an opening up of entrenched autocracies was dashed in the rubble of a failed state in Libya, unending civil war in Syria, and a restoration of autocracy in Egypt. Only Tunisia clings to a tenuous democracy.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Kingdom's refusal to be accountable for it, and Trump's refusal to hold them to account signal a sinister turn to an even darker Middle East.

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has aggressively consolidated his power, at one point confining much of the Saudi royal family and other members of the elite in a luxury hotel while pressuring them to back his rule. He ordered the detention of the Lebanese Prime Minister and forced him to announce his resignation on global television. He has imprisoned scores of reformers, including advocates of women's rights, even as he was pushing through new policies that allowed women to drive for the first time. He has pushed his Gulf allies to join him in isolating Qatar because of its independent foreign policy. He has prosecuted (with American arms) a bloody war in neighboring Yemen, ostensibly to block Iran from gaining influence in the Arabian peninsula.

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The Crown Prince is, in short, a tough customer who does not brook dissent or independence.

Khashoggi, a conservative Muslim who was once an ally of the royal family, ran afoul of the Crown Prince and went into exile. As a columnist for The Washington Post he advocated democracy for Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate on the promise of getting papers that would allow him to legally marry again after a divorce. We now know that he was seized and murdered almost immediately upon entering the consulate. He may have been tortured. His body was apparently dismembered and somehow disposed of; the Saudis have yet to produce his remains.

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The news about the abduction and murder was disseminated by the host government, Turkey, which demanded that the alleged perpetrators be handed over for prosecution there. This was not unreasonable, but the Saudis have not complied. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed horror at the crime, even though his regime has not hesitated to imprison journalists and other opponents, and to seek extradition of a major opposition figure residing in the United States. But his ulterior motive is his rivalry with the Saudis for leadership of Sunni Muslims in the Middle East.

The Saudi government has produced several mutually inconsistent stories about the murder, but they all assert that the Crown Prince had nothing to do with it. But knowing how centralized power is in the prince's hands, and how ruthless he is, it simply strains credulity to believe anything other than that he ordered the capture of Khashoggi. Moreover, the squad that carried out the crime just happened to have a bone saw with them. That certainly suggests that the Crown Prince also ordered the murder.

This indeed was the conclusion of the US intelligence agencies: that the Crown Prince must have ordered the capture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

President Trump is having none of it. As with the agencies' finding that the Russian government had interfered in the 2016 election to work against Hillary Clinton, here again Trump simply refuses to believe it, choosing instead to believe the denials of Putin in the earlier case, or Mohammed bin Salman now. Why he is so set on protecting Putin has always been obscure. With the Saudi regime, however, his public statements emphasize the importance of our economic ties (especially our arms sales), and secondarily the long-standing strategic partnership, the tacit alliance between the US, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt that underpins authoritarian stability in the region.

It was against this alliance that the movements of the Arab Spring were directed, even when their immediate targets were dictators like Gaddafi in Libya or Assad in Syria. But the authoritarian order held.

Now, Trump is passing the word that Mafia rules apply: if you are our friend, you can do anything. We will have your back. Welcome to the dark Arab Winter.

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Retired professor of political science. Pennsylvania resident.

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