Make no mistake; we are in the midst of an international incident over the suspected death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. As this whole thing is still playing out in real time, it remains to be seen how serious things will get before it is resolved.
To understand why this is such a big deal, allow us to provide some context on Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia, and their relationship with the rest of the world.
Saudi Arabia has had a contentious relationship with the rest of the world for most of its existence. Much of the conflict comes from the country’s history of human rights violations (particularly towards women) and its relationship to terror groups, ranging from permissiveness to suspected ties.
Recently, the nation’s crown prince and de facto leader Mohammed Bin Salman has been praised for some of the progressive policies he’s enacted. At the same time, for every step forward he brings the country; there are twice as many claims of steps taken backward towards violence and corruption.
However, most nations are unwilling to outright condemn Saudi Arabia for much of anything they do (let alone act against them) because they are one of the richest countries in the world. Their wealth comes, not only from money but from oil. This wealth and fear of losing a key ally in the region have made the U.S., specifically, more tolerant of things it shouldn’t be tolerant of in order to maintain positive relations, for several decades and through many different administrations. In fact, the current President, spoke very candidly about his favor towards the Saudis, because of all the business deals he has with them, on the campaign trail; in remarks he now denies…
Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen and journalist critical of ruling family and government. So much so that he moved to the U.S. and became a legal resident. About two weeks ago, he went into a Saudi consulate in Turkey to retrieve some documents and has not been seen since. There is a clear video of him entering the consulate, but none of him leaving.
Not long after, Turkish authorities began to speculate foul play on the part of the Saudis, which they vehemently denied. Turkish authorities believe that a “hit squad” was flown into the country under the cover of night, did the deed, and returned back to Saudi Arabia. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. The disappearance has put the eyes of the world on Saudi Arabia in a way that has not happened in recent memory.
Most recently, several major news sites are reporting that the Saudi government is preparing a statement admitting that Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudis but that it was a mistake during an interrogation gone wrong. They are also maintaining that Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his father the King had no knowledge of the incident.
Much of the world has tentatively condemned the alleged actions of Saudi Arabia in a near-unprecedented fashion. While the US President seems to be running damage control for the Saudis, members of Congress from both major parties are threatening action (most likely in the form of sanctions) should it officially come to light that Saudi Arabia was responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
For their part, Saudi Arabia has warned of serious consequences should it face any sanctions. They currently sell their oil at around $80 a barrel. They have warned that if they should face sanctions in regards to this matter they could hike up the price to as much as $400 a barrel in an attempt to cripple the economies of the offending nations.
The whole situation is a mess. We will all have to wait and see how it all plays out.