The three stances nations have taken on Khashoggi
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, came to Riyadh and sat in the front row at the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh, even when no high-ranking or senior guests were yet present.
Actually, he cut his vacation short and joined the conference in response to the boycott calls that were heard in international news agencies. He even agreed to participate in the discussions and not just attend the conference, which extended over three days. Many political figures also joined the conference to show their support for the Saudi leadership.
In major crises, neutrality is also a position.
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi also took a firm stand in support of Riyadh. He directly warned Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahdha Party in Tunisia, after the latter’s alleged statement endorsing Qatar and Turkey in their media war against Saudi Arabia, waged over the killing of our late colleague Jamal Khashoggi. “We regard what happened to Khashoggi as quite terrible, but it is not acceptable to exploit it in order to undermine Saudi Arabia and its stability, as this would affect the stability of the entire Arab world,” Essebsi said.
For Saudi Arabia, this is an “existential war,” and stances are measured accordingly. Indeed, there have been three types of stance: The first is taken by adversaries, led by Qatar and Turkey, who seek to politicize the crime and exploit it to overthrow, or at least undermine, the Saudi regime.
Most policymakers are aware about the need to draw a line between the heinous crime and the regional conflict; since the crime will not last but the dispute will.
The second is taken by the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and others, who have sided with Riyadh against Qatar and Turkey. For instance, the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah quickly made the position of his country clear in a special meeting held with members of the National Assembly. He told them that he was supporting Saudi Arabia in this crisis, and that “Kuwait would not hesitate to stand by its big sister Saudi Arabia in good and bad times, because the coming phase is difficult and its repercussions will not exclude any country in the region.” Kuwait itself had faced chaotic and hostile Qatari activity back in March 2015.
As for the third stance, it is taken by neutral governments that have not adopted clear-cut positions, preferring instead to follow the developments from a distance.
At the international level, the Russian and Chinese stances were clear: They rejected the politicization of Khashoggi’s death. The two countries showed enough signs to confirm their positions.
The US, on the other hand, became a media battleground, mainly with positions against Saudi Arabia. However, the US administration has cautiously dealt with the issue, confirming its special relationship with the Riyadh government and announcing the ongoing calls between the two countries. But, at the same time, it did not want to turn the Saudi crisis into an internal US crisis given the heated midterm elections campaign. Despite all the pressures, President Donald Trump was clear in distinguishing between the higher interests of the US in its relations with Riyadh and dealing with the crime itself. His position is extremely important because it has thwarted Qatar and Turkey’s attempts to escalate the issue.
There remain two more important and influential countries in the region: Iran and Israel. They dealt with this issue in different ways.
Iran, which considers itself an outspoken opponent of Saudi Arabia, kept a neutral position for two weeks, hinting that it would be ready to support Saudi Arabia if Riyadh made the first move. However, when Iran saw that Washington stood by Saudi Arabia, it waged a media war against the latter.
As for Israel, it considered that this single issue was being over-exploited, given the bad record of many countries in the region regarding such issues. Israel has, thus, warned that continued escalation may threaten the stability of the already troubled region, saying that, despite its disagreements with Saudi Arabia, the current attack on the latter was unacceptable. This means that Israel’s scope is no longer limited to the conflict over Palestine, as it has become an important regional player in all issues.
Most policymakers are aware about the need to draw a line between the heinous crime and the regional conflict; since the crime will not last but the dispute will. The higher interests of countries must not be sold cheaply just because Turkey and Qatar have decided to exacerbate the crisis.
Hence, after the midterm elections in the US finish, and because Turkey is now reaching the end of its “game of leaks” that lasted for a whole month, the crime will return to its natural place, i.e., the judiciary, while politicians return to their other business.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed