Many Arabs seemed to wish that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would come out and directly accuse the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yet they were disappointed by the speech, with some even accusing Turkey and its president of "selling out" the Khashoggi case.
There are two very different readings of Erdogan's speech on Tuesday: a populist reading and a political reading. This is very natural for a speech that was awaited by millions of observers around the world. Perhaps the Saudi authorities themselves waited for it the most anxiously. The majority of those awaiting the speech were hoping it would satisfy their high expectations, and it should, therefore, have been expected that would be disappointed. They held mistaken expectations that a populist speech would be made by a head of state in a case of such sensitivity.
Did Turkey sell out Khashoggi's case?
We must remember that this question was not just raised after Erdogan's speech, and it is perhaps not an exaggeration to say it was the most-asked question after the outbreak of the Khashoggi crisis. It was perhaps asked even more than the question regarding the identity of the murderer.
The question of Turkey's "sale" of Khashoggi's case was initially raised after Erdogan's first brief statement on the crisis. It was also raised after the first telephone conversation between Saudi King Salman and President Erdogan and will continue to be raised until the crisis is over and perhaps even for years to come.
In the context of responding to this question, a distinction must be made between the political and criminal aspects of the crisis. It is clear that since Khashoggi's disappearance, Turkey has taken the approach of addressing the criminal aspect before embarking on any political decisions or conclusions. This approach enabled Turkey to obtain Saudi "concessions" in support of its investigations, including opening the consulate and the consul's home to Turkish investigators. This allowed the Turkish authorities to obtain forensic evidence to strengthen its intelligence evidence.
The Turkish position will only be judged when the findings of the prosecutor's investigation are published in detail and we discover what political decisions will follow. However, reaching conclusions about the Turkish position is now an uncalculated "risk" by any political analyst and all we can state is a preliminary reading of the Turkish management of the crisis. So far, it has proven to be a management determined to reveal the complete results of the investigations, before turning the crisis into an international affair instead of limiting it to the Turkish-Saudi framework.
The most important points of Erdogan's speech
The Turkish president's speech on Wednesday was not a populist speech as some people had hoped, or as some Turkish and Arab media had tried to promote since the announcement of the speech. Nevertheless, it carried important indicators about Turkey's investigations. Firstly, it kept the door open by praising King Salman, in an attempt to obtain more Saudi cooperation in the investigations.
Perhaps the most controversial criminal point – which requires a Saudi role to uncover – is the location of the body. This is why Erdogan addressed this point in his speech and asked Saudi Arabia to reveal the fate of the body and the name of the Turkish collaborator who was tasked with disposing of it, as the Saudis claimed.
So what were the most important things Erdogan said which indicate that Turkey will follow through with the investigations to the end?
- He demanded an international investigation from a neutral body, in which no suspects participate, referring to suspected senior Saudi officials, possibly including the Crown Prince, although he did not name them explicitly.
- He emphasised the need to reveal who issued the orders to the killers, suggesting a demand to name those politically responsible for the crime.
- Emphasised that Turkey will follow through with the investigations until the full truth is revealed.
- Indicated that the Turkish investigations suggest the crime was pre-meditated, thus refuting and contradicting the Saudi narrative that said the crime was an accident.
- Reiterating that holding the security agents who committed the crime responsible will not satisfy Turkey and will not reassure the world. This refers once again to the political and criminal responsibility of those who gave the orders, again questioning the Saudi narrative of the group acting without receiving orders.
- Referring, for the first time officially, to the possibility of other states or persons from other countries being involved in the crim, and demanding an international investigation into them. Was he referring the UAE and Egypt, the destination of the two aircrafts carrying the execution team after committing the crime?
- Praising King Salman and his cooperation without any reference to the actual controller of things, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which indirectly indicates Turkey's position towards him.
- Demanding the extradition of the accused persons to be investigated in Turkey, reinforcing the analysis which suggests Ankara's desire to obtain the most Saudi cooperation possible to help uncover the facts and access the body, or what remains of it, before announcing the results and reaching conclusions and political decisions.
In summary, Erdogan's speech has important points because it was made at the highest level of Turkey's political pyramid. However, it was not a populist speech, as some had predicted. These points indicate that Ankara will continue with the same approach with which it has addressed the crisis since its beginning. This approach reveals the criminal truth based on completing investigations before going into political repercussions and leaving political actions to the international community, not just Turkey.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi 21 on 23 October 2018.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.