The Khashoggi affair, analysts claim, is just one episode in a long and dark history of the Saudi regime’s abductions and targeted assassinations
For years, Saudi Arabia has been accused of repressing rights activists and other citizens who have disagreed with Riyadh’s political system and policies. Since last year, more than 100 Saudi academics, activists and Islamic scholars have been detained.
The spotlight is now on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who disappeared in Turkey earlier this month. Khashoggi had worked for several government newspapers in Saudi Arabia and as an adviser to the former Saudi intelligence chief until last year when he fled the kingdom to Turkey, fearing for his life because of his stance against the Saudi-led war in Yemen and his criticism of the repression of activists in his country.
On October 2, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain some documents for his marriage, which was to be conducted in a few days. That was the last time he was seen. The Saudis maintain he exited shortly after entering the consulate. However, his fiancée, who was waiting for him outside the consulate building, said she waited all day and he did not come out. Turkish officials now claim that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.
Khashoggi’s disappearance is shrouded in mystery, as are those of many other Saudi dissidents who, while outside the country, are suspected of having been abducted or assassinated by Riyadh over a period of many years.
Explaining the nature of the Saudi political system to The Media Line, Asa’ad al-Ouwawi, a political science instructor at al-Quds Open University, said: “The internal structure of the Saudi regime is tribal.
It doesn’t allow any voice or point of view within the country to oppose the ruler, after whose family the whole country is named [al-Saud].”
He added that in addition to completely silencing internal rival voices in the country, the Saudi government has targeted and assassinated Saudi dissidents residing abroad.
“The Saudis have a great belief that money can wash away the suppression their system supports. But that it isn’t the case anymore,” al-Ouwawi asserted.
He mentioned as an example the disappearance of Saudi citizen Nassir al-Sa’id in Beirut in 1979. “The media wasn’t as strong as it is now. I believe the Saudi government managed to cover up its kidnapping and killing of al-Sa’id. However, the circumstances are different with the Khashoggi incident.”
Al-Sa’id is considered the first and most prominent Saudi critic of the royal family. He began opposition campaign in the 1950s when he ran an opposition radio program. Sa’id then moved to Yemen to set up an office before going to Beirut where he disappeared. His whereabouts remain unknown still to this day.
Al-Ouwawi pointed out that with the tremendous development of technology within media and news broadcasting, nowadays the world has become a small village in which news is transmitted very quickly.
“It’s almost impossible for the Saudi government to hide or sugar-coat its tyrannical operations, especially those that its carries out beyond Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Ouwawi said he believes that the Saudi tribal system is floundering because of its inability to keep up with fast-pace changes on one hand, while on the other, it is being harmed by the current leadership.
“Since the current crown prince took office the Saudi system has been suffering internally,” Al-Ouwawi said, adding that since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman rose to power, he has weakened the internal and external fronts of the Saudi regime.
“First, he started with a war in Yemen which has depleted Saudi resources and the state budget significantly. Then, he reduced the power and influence of Saudi princes and business people, who are his direct cousins and relatives within the ruling family clan.”
He explained that familial cohesion was a key element of the Saudi system, as it serves to protect the family’s interests. But Bin Salman is willing to compete for power with members of his own family.
“The crown prince is politically immature and lacks the necessary experience to lead a country with such enormous potential,” al-Ouwawi contended.
He explained that while Bin Salman is trying to improve the image of Saudi society by allowing women to drive and work, what is really needed is a plan to convert the country’s tribal system into a civil one.
“Saudi Arabia is like a dead city; its own citizens don’t feel like they belong to it,” he continued. “In a civil arrangement, Saudis would feel part of a system to which they can contribute,” al-Ouwawi concluded.
A Qatari political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity pointed out that Saudi Arabia prohibits reformist movements from operating in the country.
“Saudi citizens must approve of what the Saudi government and support what it supports, or else they will find themselves outside the Saudi system and under attack with all tools available to the government.”
He gave as an example the Saudi government’s disapproval of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Saudis who support the movement are considered an “oppositionist to the Saudi system, which qualifies that person for punishment.”
He added that the Saudi government often encourages citizens who are unhappy with the system to raise their grievances only with government officials, and not with the media or the public.
“The Saudis who take their concerns about the country directly to the government are safe. However, those who approach the media are added to the government’s blacklist.”
The Qatari analyst stated that about 1,500 Saudi citizens have been imprisoned simply for criticizing the government. “Riyadh believes that silencing critics will be a deterrent to others.”
“But Saudi writers, journalists and activists are more determined than ever to reveal the truth about the country and its system,” adding that the Khashoggi case has caused Saudi dissidents abroad to take safety measures as they hope to keep their voices “loud and clear.”
Saudi political analyst Sulaiman al-Oquily accused Iran and Qatar of orchestrating Khashoggi’s disappearance to sow discord between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and to increase opposition to the Saudi government among its citizens.
Al-Oquily told The Media Line that Saudi Arabia is the only cohesive Arab force in the Middle East. This does not please regional and international powers opposed to the Saudis. He claimed these powers are trying to destroy the kingdom and divide Arabs against one another.