After Khashoggi killing, Saudi Arabia extends its claws to Norway

After Khashoggi killing, Saudi Arabia extends its claws to Norway
Comment: Given MBS got away with Khashoggi's murder entirely unscathed, the tipoff warning Norway-based activist Iyad el-Baghdadi of a Saudi threat is of grave concern, writes Sam Hamad.
5 min read
07 May, 2019
Saudi Arabia first denied Khashoggi's murder, then said rogue agents carried out the operation [AFP]
When Saudi Arabia, or rather Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), ordered the torture and murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, it sent the message that no critic of MBS is safe.  

Now, less than a year later, Iyad el-Baghdadi, a Palestinian-born pro-democracy activist living in Norway, has received a warning from the Norwegian government, via the CIA, that his life is in "potential danger" from Saudi Arabia.  

The threat, which Baghdadi became aware of on the 25 April, was of such a serious nature that Norwegian authorities whisked el-Baghdadi away to a safe location.

This isn't the first time Baghdadi has fallen foul of autocrats in the Arab world.  

The reason he resides in Norway is because of his arrest and expulsion from the UAE in 2015 due to his high-profile support for the Arab Spring.

Read more: The Khashoggi affair: Saudi Denial 2.0

It was in Norway that he sought asylum - Europe is supposed to be a safe haven for those who flee terror - but whether you're an intellectual like Baghdadi, or simply someone fleeing genocidal war, those days are long gone.

Since MBS' rise in Saudi Arabia, Baghdadi has been a consistent critic of the crown prince's actions and the nature of his regime, telling The Guardian, "if they don't want to kill me then I am not doing my job".  

As ever with the gormlessly thuggish MBS and his entirely superficial "reform agenda", the irony of Baghdadi warning that they were capable of assassinations abroad will be lost on him.

Though Saudi Arabia's brutality at home hardly comes as a surprise, in the era of the Arab Spring and the rise of the self-styled though entirely phoney "reformist" MBS, the Kingdom, along with their allies in the UAE, has reacted by going on the offensive.  

The Kingdom's long, cruel reach can be extended to individual critics in apparently 'safe' countries

In recent years, the Saudi-UAE axis has sponsored or fomented counter-revolution in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia and Yemen, where it continues to carry out a brutal and deadly war.

But the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a different kind of escalation for the Kingdom. It was MBS flexing his muscles globally, showing that the Kingdom's long, cruel reach can be extended to individual critics in apparently "safe" countries.  

And there's an underlying dynamic to all this that makes it even more sinister.  

We know very well that Trump is perfectly willing to side with foreign leaders over his own intelligence services, as he did in Helsinki with his endorsement of Putin's absurd denials of cyberwarfare, even against the evidence provided to him by his own state. And we see a similar dynamic with Saudi Arabia.

Baghdadi is a Palestinian-born activist living in Norway
and critic of Mohammed bin Salman [Getty]

Despite the CIA concluding that Khashoggi was murdered on the direct orders of MBS, Trump in his typical style of cognitive dissonance denied that they had found any such thing.  

Trump claimed the CIA simply had "feelings" rather than evidence on the matter, and, like a broken record, accused the media of reporting "fake news" on the subject.

So it came as no surprise that when the Trump administration - which had spoken grandiose, but entirely empty words about demanding accountability from MBS - sanctioned those identified as responsible for the death of Khashoggi, MBS was not included.

Essentially, the Trump administration had helped the crown prince get away with murder and had further demonstrated how untouchable he is.

The fact that the warning of a threat against Baghdadi's life came from the CIA, once again points to the disparity between Trump's policy and the actions of his intelligence agency.

Those who think the US has ultimate control over its tyrannical MENA allies have always overestimated the power of the US, and underestimated the autonomy of entities like Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is acutely aware of how important it is to the US, both economically and strategically, as lynchpin in preserving global authority of the US.

Just last week, we saw how Trump was influenced by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Sisi regarding classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist organisation".   

It might seem strange that for the self-described "America First" president, US foreign policy appears so often governed by outside influence.  

But in fact, the reality is that there's a confluence of interests between them, ranging from Trump's domestic Islamophobic agenda aligning with Saudi's counter-revolutionary push against the Brotherhood, to their shared will to confront Iran.

This is the era where the US allows its so-called enemies, namely Assad, Iran and Russia, to get away with genocide, and where Russia can carry out a fatal chemical weapons attack targeting dissidents in the heart of England, so what chance is there for it ever sticking up for those souls who fall victim to its allies?  

We live in an age of rising global authoritarianism and the reality is that the world has become more welcoming to tyranny than to its victims.  

It was only last month that 37 Saudi dissidents were executed en mass by the regime, while the world turned a blind eye.

Given that MBS got away with the Khashoggi murder entirely unscathed, and with business as usual continuing between the world and Saudi Arabia after largely symbolic acts of outrage, we can only hope the next target of Saudi's global reign of terror is as lucky as Baghdadi.  

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.