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Jamal Khashoggi cast the largest shadow at the G20 summit

U.S. President Donald Trump looks over at Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud as they line up for the family photo during the opening day of Argentina G20 Leaders' Summit 2018 at Costa Salguero on 30 November 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. [Daniel Jayo/Getty Images]
US President Donald Trump looks over at Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud as they line up for the family photo during the opening day of Argentina G20 Leaders' Summit 2018 at Costa Salguero on 30 November 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. [Daniel Jayo/Getty Images]

I believe that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is a murderer. I will not call him an alleged murder, say he is suspected of being involved in murder or use any other misleading phrases to cover up the issue. Even a naïve individual knows that not even the smallest thing can occur in Saudi Arabia without a direct order from Mohammad Bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the Kingdom. His brother, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, said as much when he originally denied the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and claimed that he had left the Consulate in Istanbul after his divorce papers had been processed.

If even the little things only happen with the Crown Prince’s knowledge, then of course something as big as Khashoggi’s brutal murder in the Saudi Consulate couldn’t have happened without the decision-makers in Riyadh knowing about it. This makes the man at the top an accessory to murder, at the very least; any suggestion to the contrary is misleading and deceitful.

Mohammad Bin Salman looks to have paid billions of dollars in arms deals and bought the souls of nations with petrol grants and suchlike in order to go to Argentina for the G20 summit. The purpose of his participation was to wash the blood off his hands after failing, in many people’s opinions, to prove his innocence. He wanted to shake hands and be photographed with heads of state from around the world in order to prove to his own people and to the world that he has not been excluded; that he has a rightful place among world leaders.

However, sometimes the wind doesn’t blow in your favour, as the Crown Prince found out in Buenos Aires. Although he arrived at the hall early and stood at the side of the platform in order to come face to face with everyone walking into the room, thus forcing them to greet him, the delegations generally ignored him and walked away quickly. When the senior leaders entered, none of them greeted him; he was alone and isolated. Furthermore, after the leaders in attendance stood for a group photograph, Bin Salman was marginalised, as Reuters noted, causing him to leave the room quickly, without greeting anyone.

READ: Britain’s May urges Saudi accountability for Khashoggi killing

Perhaps the only person to greet him warmly in a non-traditional and informal manner was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who high-fived him in the main meeting hall. He was also, perhaps coincidentally, seated next to him; was this pre-arranged so that he could be next to someone used to eliminating opponents? Putin and Bin Salman also both have bloodstained hands, thanks to their military interventions in Syria and Yemen respectively.

If this seat allocation was not official protocol, did they want to send a message to US President Donald Trump, who ignored them deliberately, each for their own reasons? Trump cancelled his official meeting with Putin before leaving the US as a strong message to Moscow after Russia seized Ukrainian warships in the Black Sea. He did, however, meet with Putin and his wife, unofficially, for dinner. Meanwhile, he ignored Bin Salman, despite being fully supportive of him and defending him fiercely pre-summit. Was this due to Trump’s fear of the US media, which would take advantage of any picture of him shaking hands with the Saudi Prince? Or did Trump fear the reaction of Congress?

For Putin and Bin Salman it was a case of my enemy’s friend is also my friend, and my friend’s enemy is also my friend, in a bizarre twist to the usual scenario, given that Russia’s ally Iran is Saudi Arabia’s enemy and the US is Saudi Arabia’s ally and Russia’s enemy. Putin is due to visit Riyadh soon, where he will sign several trade and military agreements for the sale of Russian arms to Saudi Arabia. Trump has warned Congress several times that the US will lose half a trillion dollars in trade, military and investment deals with Saudi Arabia and that Riyadh will resort to buying weapons from Russia if post-Khashoggi killing sanctions are imposed on the Kingdom.

President of Russia, Vladimir Putin (R) and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman (L) attend a special session entitled ‘Fair And Sustainable Future’ as part of G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 30 November, 2018. [Murat Kaynak /Anadolu Agency]

The Saudi Crown Prince thought that by attending the G20 summit he would escape the Khashoggi case, but the murdered journalist cast the biggest shadow on proceedings in Buenos Aires, not least because Human Rights Watch filed a lawsuit against him in the Argentinian courts and he faced street protests objecting to his presence and condemning both the murder of his opponents and his country’s alleged war crimes in Yemen.

Khashoggi’s ghost even haunted Bin Salman in his five minute conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron who, according to statements from the Élysée Palace, conveyed a very firm message to the Prince that Europe will insist on international experts being part of the investigations into the journalist’s murder. Moreover, the ghostly presence of the Saudi hit squad’s victim was felt in Bin Salman’s meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was also firm with him and demanded that a full and honest investigation be conducted into Khashoggi’s murder. Those involved, insisted May, must be held accountable in order to stop such a crime from being committed again.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused the Crown Prince’s request to meet with him. “Neither the Islamic world nor the international community will be satisfied unless all the perpetrators [of Khashoggi’s murder], including those who gave the order, are fully identified,” Erdoğan told a press conference. He expressed his country’s willingness to share all of the evidence it has with countries seeking to investigate the Khashoggi case.

It is certain that if the Saudi Crown Prince knew that he and his country would be humiliated in this international forum, then perhaps he would not have attended the G20 Summit. However, he is arrogant and reckless, and lacks wisdom in his decision-making.

He must have thought that by going to Arab states before heading for Argentina he would restore his lustre and improve his image. However, he faced popular protests in Egypt and Tunisia as his visits provoked the masses and they did not welcome him. They were angry at their countries’ hosting of a man perceived to be a murderer, not only for Khashoggi’s killing but also the heinous massacres committed by his armed forces in Yemen and the killing of his own people. It was also due to his collusion with Israel. As Donald Trump told the US Congress, “…Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia.” The people of Egypt and Tunisia expressed the feelings of all of the Arab nations; even Tunisian MPs objected to Bin Salman’s visit.

READ: Saudi Crown Prince sidelined in G20 family photo

In Egypt, anti-Bin Salman sentiments were expressed on social media with a hash tag #the_saw’s_visit_is_a_disgrace. Some of the national groups issued statements condemning the visit because the government had banned public protests, although it allowed a few individuals hired by an MP — women were paid $5.50 a head; men were cheaper at $3.50 — to participate in quasi-official support for the visit, according to an advert leaked on social media. Two hundred women and 100 men were wanted to hold pictures of the Crown Prince in Tahrir Square, which was the hub of the January 2011 Revolution. Saudi Arabia, you may recall, plotted against the revolution and helped to thwart it.

The MP in question used his hired media chorus to welcome the Crown Prince. Some media outlets published photoshopped images of the pyramids draped with the Saudi flag, claiming that they were decorated for Bin Salman’s visit. The Ministry of Antiquities issued a statement to deny such a thing.

After all of this, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman must assess whether the humiliation and international shame was a price worth paying for silencing a lone dissenting voice. Tyrannical regimes are always mistaken in their calculations, as they do not accept advice or consultation from others. By attributing god-like status to themselves they put their countries at risk of trials and tribulations. In this case, all entirely self-inflicted.

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

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