Who or what drives this media feeding frenzy?
The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still under investigation, but the international media has acted as prosecutor, judge and jury from day one, pointing fingers at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So-called analysts and opinion writers clamor to voice libelous allegations under the guise of incontrovertible “facts” disseminated by pro-government Turkish newspapers.
Some of their stories are so bizarre they could have been lifted straight out of a Hollywood spy thriller. In 2016, the editor of a major Turkish daily, Yeni Safak, accused the US of being behind the coup attempt and wrote that the US planned to kill President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Few took that seriously, so it is odd that lurid newspaper reports on the disappeared man’s fate are being taken as gospel.
The truth has yet to be determined, so I am left wondering why news outlets, government officials, US lawmakers and major international companies have been competing in their rush to judgment. I am shocked that the US Congress is leaning on President Donald Trump to punish America’s closest Middle East ally with sanctions.
The administration should think carefully about this, and not just on financial grounds or fears the Kingdom will switch its multibillion-dollar investments and weapons purchases to Russia or China. In all cases, I am not impressed by the negative insinuations and threats.
Why is the US so invested in the disappearance of this incident which happened on on non-American soil when the Turkish media has been purged of dissident journalists and editors with no such ballyhoo? Hundreds have been imprisoned and at least two Turkish former commandos who fled to Greece, dubbed by the Turkish government as “public enemy No. 1,” went missing - possibly kidnapped - in August.
There was little global outcry when Abdul Ghani Bedawi, the second secretary at the Saudi Embassy in Ankara, was assassinated in 1988 or when the US Embassy in the capital was attacked by a Turkish suicide bomber in 2013. Does anyone even remember the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov by a lone Turkish gunman in 2016? And, unless we forget, former Interpol Chief Meng Hongwei was believed dead until China finally admitted he was under arrest on corruption charges.
Until the investigation is over, there is much that could happen. Earlier this year, Ukraine’s authorities confessed they had staged the killing of Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who was a known critic of the Kremlin. His reappearance left media commentators who had concluded beyond doubt that he was murdered on the orders of Vladimir Putin with egg on their faces. But Ukraine’s orchestration of fake news was forgiven.
It is shameful that the name of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been unfairly sullied when he is making courageous and unprecedented economic and social changes to better the lives of Saudi youth and women.
More power to him. Sadly, the hopes for a successful Saudi investment summit scheduled for Oct. 23 have been shaken, despite the fact that the Khashoggi case still being investigated. The President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim says he is no longer attending. CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times and Bloomberg have withdrawn as media sponsors.
I am equally disturbed at the backlash from respected business leaders, among them Virgin’s Richard Branson and the CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, who have spurned a lucrative business environment by suspending ties with Riyadh on a mishmash of unconfirmed leaks designed to paint the Saudi government in a poor light.
The Saudis’ Gulf Cooperation Council allies, as well as Egypt and Jordan, must stand shoulder to shoulder with Riyadh to show those companies they are not welcome to operate within our borders. They should be boycotted. Together we must prove we will not be bullied or else, mark my words, once they have finished kicking the Kingdom, we will be next in line. Now is the time to prove our loyalty and transparency toward each other.
The truth has yet to be determined, so I am left wondering why news outlets, government officials, US lawmakers and major international companies have been competing in their rush to judgment.
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
Where is Khashoggi? That is the question of the hour on every news channel. It is my sincere hope that he is found alive and well but, until the joint Turkish-Saudi investigation provides solid answers, no one should jump to conclusions.
It is understandable that overnight, Khashoggi’s face has become one of the most recognizable on the planet. He has been portrayed as a heroic human rights activist, a champion of democracy and truth seeker by the mainstream media; he is an all-round, good-hearted fellow, say his colleagues in the profession.
However, what is not understandable is that many overlooked his tweets supporting acts of terrorist groups in Syria, movement to consolidate political Islam, his relationship with Osama bin Laden and his membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Such ties have been noted by a Jordanian former colleague and close friend of Khashoggi, Salameh Nattar. In his book “The Looming Tower,” Lawrence Wright quotes Khashoggi discussing the Brotherhood thus: “We were hoping to establish an Islamic state anywhere. We believed that the first would lead to another, and that would have a domino effect which could reverse the history of mankind.” One of his recent columns published in the Washington Post is headed “The US is wrong about the Brotherhood…”
Furthermore, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz - whom the Khashoggi family has denied all knowledge of - has an anti-Saudi, pro-Qatari and Muslim Brotherhood agenda according to her Twitter account.
This is why I would urge the US administration to wait before feting her in the White House. Her credibility stands at zero until the mystery behind Khashoggi’s case is resolved. However, she has been afforded column inches in American newspapers, in which she implores Trump to “shed light” on the disappearance.
This peculiar incident, and particularly the backlash we have witnessed from the US and several of its Western allies, is laced with political intrigue. The door has been opened for the Kingdom’s known detractors to spread damaging half-truths and lies while ingratiating themselves with Washington.
What is the backstory here? I am no conspiracy theorist, but is this meant to weaken Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in an attempt to force their arm?
Could there be a long-held plan in place that is now being executed to ruin our economies in the hope we will bend to become vassal states? Who is influencing Qatar against resuming its rightful role as a brotherly Gulf state for instance? Should there be someone using dirty tricks to push us down the ladder and the sooner we wake up to defend ourselves the better.
Last week, Saudi basked in America’s friendship. A single individual goes off the radar and Riyadh is targeted with warnings and threats from America’s political, financial and business sectors. Considering that the investigation is not yet over, if this is not gross overkill, then what is?
There is only one solution. We can no longer trust Western handshakes that soon become slaps. We need to be responsible for our own defense, entailing the creation of a strong and united front. The first step is for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the other GCC countries to establish an Executive Committee for Political and Economic Affairs tasked with furthering our interests abroad and monitoring not only our enemies but also who is influencing some of our friends.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor