Could Saudi Arabia become a rogue state?
The disappearance and almost-certain murder of prominent Saudi Arabian dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi has the potential to inflame tensions in the Middle East, already one of the world's most unstable and conflict-ridden regions.
The Washington Post newspaper, which has regularly published articles by Khashoggi over the last year, has reported that government sources from Turkey and the United States possess audio and video evidence proving that the journalist was in fact murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Turkish authorities have thus far refused to make that evidence public because it would clearly illustrate the extent to which the Saudis, as well as other diplomatic missions in the country, are monitored — something that represents a clear diplomatic affront.
The Post had previously written that it was in possession of intelligence agency information proving that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had intended to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to jail him. But he didn't take the bait. So Khashoggi was instead lured to Turkey, where his fiancee lives, and he disappeared in the Saudi consulate, never to be seen again.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump and the US Congress have gotten involved. It's entirely possible that the case may even lead Western governments to change their traditionally close relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi's disappearance alone has already damaged Saudi Arabia's image in the world. The kingdom, under the leadership of the 33-year-old crown prince, is just now beginning its long path toward fundamental societal change. The new social freedoms espoused by bin Salman are designed to pacify citizens so that they do not demand a political voice. Dissent is not desired and the ruler alone can grant and deny freedoms.
Now, Saudi Arabia is on the pillory and could well be grouped together with other rogue states that jail critics or even murder them abroad. That is a situation that even Trump finds unacceptable. Saudi Arabia's power in the Arab and Muslim world is greatly dependent upon US support. Without it, Saudi Arabia will not be able to keep up its hard line against Iran. A weakened Saudi Arabia would also be unable to help facilitate the US approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tremors to be felt far beyond Saudi Arabia
Khashoggi's disappearance will also force Western countries to re-evaluate just how to deal with authoritarian countries. When dissidents are murdered in Eastern Europe, there are loud calls for immediate sanctions. Saudi Arabia is of course not the only Arab country where dissidents must live in fear. That is why the Khashoggi case may well cause tremors that will be felt far beyond the kingdom's borders.