Arab governments rally over disappearance of Saudi journalist

Saudi Arabia denies leaks that Khashoggi was killed at the consulate

 Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas stated: ‘Palestine was – and shall remain – on the side of Saudi Arabia.’ Photograph:  Abbas Momani / AFP

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas stated: ‘Palestine was – and shall remain – on the side of Saudi Arabia.’ Photograph: Abbas Momani / AFP

 

Arab governments have, belatedly, rallied round Riyadh over the disappearance and presumed murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi while visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Arab support came as Saudi Arabia vehemently denied leaks from Turkish officials who alleged he was tortured and killed at the consulate on October 2nd where he had an appointment to collect documents.

The first supportive statement was issued on October 11th, by Yemen war ally the United Arab Emirates. Its minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, argued Saudi Arabia was being targeted by a political campaign and warned the repercussions would be “dire for those who fuel it”.

The next day Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan tweeted that the federation supported Saudi Arabia “because it is a stand of honour, glory and hope”.

On October 14th, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas stated, “Palestine was – and shall remain – on the side of Saudi Arabia.”

On the same day, Lebanese prime minister designate Saad Hariri expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia “in the face of the campaigns targeting it”.

“The status of Saudi Arabia in the Arab and international communities places it among the central countries entrusted with stability in the region and the support of Arab causes,” he said.

Last November Mr Hariri was detained and compelled to resign his position while in Riyadh. Freed under pressure from Lebanon and France, Mr Hariri returned to Beirut and revoked his resignation.

Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafidh said Cairo regarded with concern the fallout from Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance and warned against exploiting the case to harm Saudi Arabia.

The foreign ministry of Bahrain, which is under Saudi military protection, called Saudi Arabia a “pillar of stability in the region”.

Yemen’s Saudi-sponsored president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, expressed “full solidarity with the kingdom” and insisted the “cheap political and media targeting of Saudi Arabia will not deter it from continuing its leading role in the Arab and Islamic worlds”. His statement was released in Saudi media.

Jordan’s minister for media affairs, Joumana Ghunaimat, said Amman stood by Riyadh against any “baseless rumours and campaign targeting”.

Economic sanctions

The Arab League rejected the threat of economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia with the aim of exerting political pressure on the kingdom. Non-Arab Iran adopted an approach similar to that of the Arabs, although Tehran is regarded by Riyadh as its chief regional rival.

Significantly, the initial supportive statement, by the United Arab Emirates, was made nine days after Mr Khashoggi went missing, with others following 12 days after the journalist’s disappearance, almost certainly after prodding by Riyadh which appeared to have promoted its central regional role as essential for stability.

The level of comment came largely from ministries to ministers of state. Two heads of state (Mr Abbas and Mr Hadi) and one head of government (Mr Hariri) reacted. Some rulers dependent on Saudi funding refrained from commenting.

Arab media in the region have generally avoided the Khashoggi story although mention was made of his ties to Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi-antagonist Qatar. Social media in the region has been muted since the clampdowns that followed the 2011 Arab Spring.