Herald View: Murder in the consulate; Saudis touch a new low

A Saudi dissident named Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate and disappeared. Khashoggi wrote critical pieces about the Prince, who had acquired the image of a reformist prince in the West

Herald View: Murder in the consulate; Saudis touch a new low

Herald View

Murder in a consulate is a rather strange thing to happen, but it did happen on October 2 inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The development shook the world’s conscience. A Saudi dissident named Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate, never to come out again. Khashoggi was a known critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam and was based in the US where he worked as a journalist for The Washington Post and often wrote critical pieces about the Prince, who had acquired the image of a reformist prince in the West.

Khashoggi had planned to get married and he went to seek visa for his journey to the Saudi consulate from where he never returned. His disappearance caused a global uproar, leading to a major embarrassment for the Trump administration which had given wide endorsement to the Crown Prince’s reformist moves.

Indeed, Prince Salman was globally hailed as a reformer in the regressive Saudi society, where especially women lived a horrible life of virtual servitude. Prince Salman allowed Saudi women to drive; he legalised public entertainment like musical performances and cinema shows; he allowed women to enter sports stadia, etc. All such moves were hailed as a great leap forward for a society that had been following regressive tribal customs since it came into being in 1930s.

The rise of a reformist Prince in Saudi Arabia in this background was certainly a welcome change that was hailed widely. But the Khashoggi incident shook the world and shattered the Crown Prince’s image

Saudis were not only criticised for being anti-women but they were also targeted for being the purveyor of fundamentalist Wahabi Islamist ideology that breeds jihadist militants in major parts of the Muslim world. An overwhelming number of boys who executed the 9/11 terror attack in New York were Saudis. Their leader and the father of modern Islamist terrorism, Osama bin Laden, too, was a Saudi national.

The rise of a reformist Prince in Saudi Arabia in this background was certainly a welcome change that was hailed widely. But the Khashoggi incident shook the world and shattered the Crown Prince’s image. Even US President Donald Trump initially took it as a human rights violation issue and rushed his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh, apparently to push the Kingdom to accept its guilt in the Khashoggi case. Ironically, while Pompeo was still in Riyadh, Trump turned soft on Prince Salman, dashing hopes of the US pressuring Saudis to mend their ways on human rights violations.

It may, in fact, have encouraged Prince Salman to continue with his wayward ways of dealing with his political critics like Khashoggi, who was killed for being free and frank in his writings against the Saudi Crown Prince. It’s high time that the West, especially the US, puts pressure on Saudi Arabia to reform itself and not just pay lip service. The Saudi establishment must no longer be allowed just to tinker with cosmetic reformist moves but should really change into a modern civilised society.

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