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After Khashoggi, what next for the Middle East?

November 9, 2018 at 9:02 am

A candle light vigil to remember journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate on 25 October 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

The search for Jamal Khashoggi’s body is over.  After one month of extensive investigations, Turkey’s attorney general has finally concluded that the body was dissolved in acid and disposed of in a well. Forensic samples from a well in the Counsel’s residence and nearby sewage drains confirm this.

None of Khashoggi’s killers have been indicted or extradited to Turkey, despite persistent demands from Ankara, yet his murder is set to impact on the future of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia will emerge substantially weaker with its image and credibility in tatters. With a leadership that is universally mistrusted and ridiculed, the Kingdom’s ability to lead regional affairs has been drastically curtailed.

Naturally, this situation paves the way for other regional powers, notably Turkey, to extend their leverage.

Initially, Khashoggi’s murder provoked a diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and Turkey being the principal actors. Then, as the grisly nature of the crime unfolded the US, European Union and international media all joined in. Now that the Saudis have admitted to the murder things can never be the same again.

 Khashoggi’s fiancée: ‘I will follow Jamal’s path’

This is not a call for a change of the law in the same manner that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair pronounced after the terrorist bombings of London on 7 July 2005. “Let no one be in any doubt that the rules of the game are changing,” he said.

In this instance the rules concerning diplomatic immunity as set forth in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are as relevant today as they were when they were ratified in 1961. Diplomatic immunity does not give freedom from arrest for serious crimes. Nor should the sovereignty of host countries be violated.

Article 41 states that persons enjoying privileges and immunities have a duty to respect the laws of the receiving state and not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state. Neither should the mission be used in a manner incompatible with international law.

Accordingly, Turkey has every right to be aggrieved and gravely concerned. Aggrieved because its sovereignty was violated by a ‘friendly’ state in the most horrific manner.

 Bin Salman is in a reckless race of his own making

It should also be concerned because it provides political asylum to thousands of dissidents from all over the region. It cannot, therefore, allow the Khashoggi murder to create a precedent for other governments to pursue and kill their citizens on its territory.

The murder of Khashoggi has been nothing but a national disaster and a humiliating embarrassment for Saudi Arabia. Having imposed a blockade on a sister Gulf State, Qatar, on the pretext that it is a supporter of terrorism, they have  exposed themselves and proven to be the real sponsors of state terrorism.

With the support of Israel and the Trump administration, the discredited Crown Prince may just cling onto power. But there will be a price. For a start he will have to pump more oil into the market and ensure that prices do not exceed the levels fixed by Washington.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on 5 November 2018 [Saudi Press Agency]

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on 5 November 2018 [Saudi Press Agency]

Additionally, he will have to accelerate the normalisation process with Israel and give unconditional support to the Trump ‘deal of the century’, which calls for a surrender of all Palestinian national rights.

And, to add insult to injury, he would be ordered to end the war in Yemen and restore diplomatic ties with Qatar.

For all their worth these measures can never be a substitute for the criminal prosecution of those responsible for the planning and murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Justice must be done and seen to be done.

When Netanyahu defends Bin Salman…

Moreover, failure to conduct a credible trial in a properly constituted court will encourage the perpetrators to continue their murderous campaign against dissidents at home and abroad. They will continue to wreak havoc and bring death and destruction to their neighbours; the type of which was visited upon Yemen.

Clearly, if Saudi officials have the nerve to do what they did to Khashoggi in a foreign country, it is inconceivable what they will do inside the Kingdom where they are a law unto themselves.

To the millions across the region who were inspired by his work, Jamal Khashoggi will remain an enduring symbol of hope, democracy and human rights. His murder offers them a perfect opportunity to resume the process of change they started in 2011 before it was rudely disrupted by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies.

What was the role of Prince MBS in Jamal Khashoggi's death - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

What was the role of Prince MBS in Jamal Khashoggi’s death – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.