Khashoggi and the state of nations

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Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist of Saudi origin, was murdered in the consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. His body was cut up and in all likelihood disposed of in a forest close to the city. After strenuous denials the Saudi government has admitted that the murder took place and that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi operatives.

The KSA claims to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the body, its disposal being outsourced to ‘a local cooperator’ and has said nothing about who it was that authorised the operation. There are widespread assumptions that it could not have gone ahead without the knowledge – at the very least – of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman who is the ultimate authority in KSA after the king himself.

And that in a nutshell is almost as much as what is known for certain about the matter at least as far as events inside the consulate are concerned, but much has been seen and understood about the state of nations since the death was confirmed. International reactions have been muted, and range from President Trump being in almost complete denial for weeks and silent since he was briefed by the head of the CIA on Thursday last.

A number of Saudi nationals have had their visas cancelled. The UK government has been similarly tight-lipped beyond the threat of visa cancellation and President Macron of France on Friday refused to answer questions on the matter. Countries contiguous to KSA have had nothing to say either.

No nation state that does business with the KSA has thus far done any more than deliver a polite ticking off and a tap on the wrist for it. Even allowing for the possibility of the Turkish government making full disclosure of the horrific detail it is unlikely that the consequences for the KSA are going to even mildly discommode it.

Within, there is unease about the way in which the crown prince has handled this, necessitating the intervention of the monarch. Well-sourced rumour has it that the CP’s days are numbered and that he will be eventually be replaced by the current KSA ambassador to Washington – who happens to be his brother. So no change there, then.

The Turks have asked for the extradition of the named individuals alleged to have carried out the killing, and as these words are typed on Saturday 27th October the Saudis have issued a blunt refusal – and nobody expected them to do anything else. To all intents and purposes the KSA has got away with murder, and they are not the only state to do so in recent times.

The Russian attempt to kill Sergei Skripal failed and he survived. He was poisoned with Novichok, a deadly nerve agent. Two other people were also affected later purely by accident, collateral damage. One died the other is possibly blinded for life.

Alexander Litvinenko died of acute radiation poisoning in 2006 again in the UK, another victim of the Russian state. Neither the Skripals nor Litvinenko presented anything like an existential threat to Russia, but both were irritants, itches that had to be scratched. Scratched out, eventually. Sanctions on Russia duly followed, having minimal effect.

The world has been charmed and beguiled by the seemingly reformist crown prince who has made it possible for women to drive – and locked up other women protesting at other aspects of draconian rule – but in respect of Khashoggi at least the scales have been taken from their eyes, the rosy tint now bloodstained. Blood? We’ll live with it says the world.

The KSA is run by a brutally effective monarchy that protects itself and its interests at all costs. It controls a large portion of the global oil reserve and literally at the flick of a number of switches – or valves – can influence global oil prices. It holds the trump card and knows it and will weather a loss of face in the short term.

The old arms vendors will be back after a decent interval, service providers will barely break step and inwards investors are already tidying up their papers after a Doha in the Desert conference that was barely ruffled by the Khashoggi affair. Sorry…what did you say? Khashoggi…who’s he?

The writer is editorial consultant at National Courier, news junkie, bibliophile, cat lover and occasional cyclist.