Focus on West’s sins rather than Turkey in Khashoggi case
The English have renamed the street outside the Saudi embassy in London “Khashoggi Street,” a friend has told me while reading a message that came from WhatsApp. “This can’t be true,” I replied. “Look there is even a picture,” he added. “It’s fake news. Britain is among the major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, it won’t take such a move,” I said, and in fact it turned out that it was Amnesty International’s initiative to symbolically rename the street to mark one month since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The brutal murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has put Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the spotlight. That also has to do with the fact that Erdoğan and his advisors have endorsed a strategy of leaking information on selective sequencing to keep pressure on both Washington and Riyadh.
Factual reporting by international news outlets from Istanbul soon started to be accompanied by comments over how Erdoğan was planning to gain from the Khashoggi affair.
There is no doubt that from early on Turkish authorities had reached the conclusion that the dissident was murdered and that the fingerprints were pointing to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS. Instead of directly confronting the Saudi royal family and its principal supporter, Donald Trump, Erdoğan chose to force them to come to terms with him.
The tension in the stormy Turkish-U.S. relations had already started to cool down with the release of pastor Andrew Brunson on Oct. 12, whose detention for two years had prompted the U.S. to impose sanctions against Turkey. Washington lifted sanctions on Nov. 2 on two Turkish ministers — a move that was immediately matched by Turkey.
Erdoğan then told the press on Nov. 3 that Trump told him he will give the necessary instructions on the issue of Halkbank, which is facing fines for sanctions-busting. According to reports leaked last July, Ankara and Washington had reached an understanding that would have involved the release of Brunson and the relief on Halkbank.
Meanwhile, although Turkey had been asking for a U.S. waiver ever since Trump had announced that he will reinstate sanctions on Iran, Turkey’s demand was not at the core but on the sidelines of the “Brunson deal.”
Washington announced yesterday, on Nov. 5, that Turkey will be among the eight countries to be exempted from the sanctions regime.
Yet one has to remind that the Turkish employees of the U.S. missions who are kept under arrest were still not released as of yesterday, which is believed to be part of the initial “Brunson deal.”
It is, therefore, a safe bet to say that the U.S.’s waiver might well be a gesture of gratitude for Erdoğan’s strategy of avoiding directly humiliating Trump and his protégé MbS.
Erdoğan might have well designed his strategy to maximize Turkish interests. But, after all, he has not yet left the perpetrators of the murder in the Saudi family off the hook. In the end he might as well do that perhaps in exchange of a Saudi pledge to end economic support to the PKK’s wing in northern Syria.
Until then, Western media should turn the spotlights from Erdoğan to their own governments. If they find Erdoğan to be hypocritical and opportunistic in the Khashoggie case, isn’t the same hypocrisy and opportunism valid for the so-called “advanced democracies” of the West, who have remained silent in front of Riyadh’s flagrant violation of human rights in order not to harm their lucrative trade relations with the royal house?
What have the Western capitals done when MbS detained more than 200 people, many of whom were members of the Saudi royal family as part of what it called an “anti-corruption campaign?” What was the consequence of holding Lebanon’s prime minister while visiting Saudi Arabia, forcing him to announce his resignation on TV, a move that is unprecedented in world history?
All of this, including the crackdown on Saudi activists, went by without any consequence. One unprecedented move led to others, which the world turned a blind eye to and in the end opened the way to an unprecedented atrocity in Istanbul.
The culture of impunity
In an international forum that I attended two weeks ago, some participants, including a former Israeli minister, implied that democracy will not take root in the Middle East and that the existing political culture will not change. My answer was: Culture will not change unless the West does not change its culture of accommodating bloody dictators.