Finally, Saudi Arabia has admitted that the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a fight in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
It was the latest twist in a fast-moving saga that has tarnished the reputation of the Saudi Arabia and its powerful 33-year-old crown prince. It was critical that Riyadh shares the facts about Jamal Khashoggi, as the speculation was growing.
The seriousness of the matter can be gauged from the fact that US President Donald Trump dispatched the US secretary of state to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with the king and crown prince. Trump’s response to the matter has wavered; from initially saying that the Saudis would face “severe punishment” if they were found involved, he has since tweeted that Riyadh has “totally denied any knowledge” of the matter. While one should not jump to conclusions before all the facts are available. Nevertheless, if it is confirmed that some elements within Saudi intelligence were involved in his disappearance and possible murder, it would prove true the criticism that reforms initiated by the Saudi crown prince are cosmetic, and the same old authoritarianism persists in the kingdom’s power corridors.
The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before. This is a clear manifestation of the same practice. It was Khashoggi’s mild criticism of Mohammed bin Salman’s policies that apparently made him fall out of the crown prince’s favour. And while the case has been highlighted internationally, it should be remembered that scores of other activists and intellectuals remain incarcerated in Saudi Arabia for criticising the government.
The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power. The international community must keep up the pressure on Saudi Arabia after its admission that Khashoggi died in its Turkish consulate. Riyadh has to be held to account for the death of Khashoggi and the imprisonment of other journalists, Christophe Deloire. This violation of human rights needs to end, and someone needs to be held accountable.