The Irish Times view on the probable brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Brazen act needs strong response

Khashoggi’s murder is a frontal challenge to Trump’s policy. It assumes impunity and indulgence from a president who himself continuously attacks media critics as public enemies and purveyors of fake news

 

International pressure must be stepped up on Saudi Arabia to account for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, one of the foremost critics of its absolute monarchy. All the indications are that he was gruesomely killed in Istanbul, having been singled out by the Saudi heir apparent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a dangerous enemy with inside information who was reportedly about to launch a political movement against the regime. If that is so western countries deeply involved with the Saudis, and especially the United States, must take the lead in condemning this act and sanctioning the culprits if they are to retain their credibility as defenders of liberal values.

Saudi Arabia has real power as the world’s largest oil exporter and a pivotal state in the Middle East. Its new leadership has promoted a top down modernising agenda at home with economic reform and gestures towards freeing up restrictions on women. Simultaneously it has cracked down ruthlessly on critics, jailing thousands and silencing dissidents. The crown prince intervened in Yemen with disastrous effects now threatening 15 million people with famine. He targets rebels there to isolate and rein in Iran as a regional competitor, taking similar action in Syria’s civil war and strenuously opposing the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to win elections in Arab states.

That strategy of authoritarian reform and regional muscle against Iran has the full support of the United States. President Trump’s administration has made the Saudis key allies in the region by huge arms sales alongside personal, diplomatic and strategic preference. Khashoggi’s murder is a frontal challenge to Trump’s policy. It assumes impunity and indulgence from a president who himself continuously attacks media critics as public enemies and purveyors of fake news. Disgracefully, he praised a Republican candidate who physically assaulted a journalist just as the Khashoggi story peaked this week. His efforts to shrug off the affair as the work of rogue elements in the regime fell down before some remarkably good reportage showing those deemed responsible are top functionaries of the Saudi ruling family.

Khashoggi’s transition from regime insider to outside critic and then to media and political activist is illustrated in the final column he wrote for the Washington Post and published in this newspaper yesterday. He lamented the impoverished public sphere in the Middle East, indicated an media initiative to help transform it and recently helped found an organisation to support Islamist candidates in elections there. That proved the final straw for the Saudi regime. If they get away with this brazen act the liberal values which supposedly animate western policy will have been gravely weakened.

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