Khashoggi verdict: This is what Saudi Arabia calls justice

Khashoggi verdict: This is what Saudi Arabia calls justice
6 min read

Sam Hamad

24 December, 2019
Comment: Just as some had hoped, the verdict on Khashoggi's killing will whitewash Saudi crimes, and pave the way for business as usual with the Kingdom, writes Sam Hamad.
'The trial could only ever be a whitewashing of the crime,' writes Hamad [Getty]
Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death five men for their roles in the brutal abduction, torture and murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul just over a year ago. Another three culprits face a total of 24 years in prison.

This is what Saudi Arabia will present to the world as justice.  

As I've written before, the murder of Khashoggi was considered by the so-called free world to be less a moral outrage that deserved justice, and more an unfortunate mess that needed to be cleaned up.

If "justice", or indeed any kind of moral considerations, guided the world when it came to dealing with regimes such as that of the oil-rich and western-friendly Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom would be an international exile akin to North Korea.  

Saudi Arabia's murder of an exiled journalist, resident in the US and writing for a publication as prestigious as The Washington Post, was only notable in the free world for the fact that it occurred outside Saudi Arabia's borders. 

This regime operates as of the world's 
major centres of execution, torture and imprisonment. The victims encompass social and religious reformers, minority activists, women rights activists and anyone who crosses the theocratic, patriarchal, totalitarian order that reigns supreme in that country.   

But Khashoggi was murdered in a foreign country and in a manner that left blood-stained footprints all the way to the palaces of Saudi's monarchy - all the way to the door of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).  

Saudi Arabia's economic value to the West is wide-ranging and ultra-lucrative, as is the geopolitical service it provides.  Thus if MBS, the de facto ruler of the Kingdom, was to be implicated in an international mafia-style extra-judicial execution of a journalist, the consequences could be disastrous.  

Few will believe that the real culprits have been held to account for this crime, but even fewer will speak openly about it

Turkey called for an international investigation into the murder because of Saudi Arabia's gross abuse of the standards of international diplomacy, forcing the apparatuses of global politics into a state of temporary condemnation, which in turn, forced a handful of businesses to keep a healthy distance from the Kingdom.

This is why if you read between the lines of European and US rhetoric about accountability, and even the potential severance of economic and business ties, you'll see that what they were really expecting was a whitewash - some form of a superficial mea culpa that could pave the way for business as usual.  

And they got one.  

The investigation that accompanied the recent trial absurdly concluded that Khashoggi's murder was "not premeditated" and "the decision [to kill Khashoggi] was taken at the spur of the moment".  

Unsurprisingly, MBS and his chief henchman Saud al-Qahtani were entirely cleared of culpability in the murder. This conclusion is in gross contradiction with the conclusions reached by the CIA's own investigation that MBS directly ordered the murder of Khashoggi, with Qahtani serving as the overseer of the operation to kill the journalist.  

The trial itself was conducted in total secrecy, with the identities of the convicted men as yet unknown, and UN monitors barred from the hearings. Whoever the men are and whatever they might have done, if they were involved in Khashoggi's murder, they were acting on the orders of the Saudi state.

And this is precisely why the trial could only ever be a whitewashing of the crime. Were it to truly provide justice to the family of Khashoggi, it would require a trial of MBS and the Saudi state itself. It would, essentially, bring down the Saudi regime as we know it, which is why it would never happen.

The trial only occurred because MBS made an error in carrying out the execution in Turkey in such a brutally haphazard manner. As with the many people murdered by the Saudi regime every year, within or outside its borders, if Khashoggi had been an internal dissident killed in Riyadh, there would have been not even a mock trial.  

So, now business can return to normal for Saudi-West trade dealings, including the sale of arms used to commit mass murder in Yemen and viciously repress internal dissent.

But MBS, now officially cleared by the state he rules over, can return to the carefully crafted PR guise of the prosperous "hip" boy-king who brings boxing, UFC, WWE and music festivals to his dynastic theocracy.

This is part of his "vision" for the country. They call it "diversification", away from their reliance oil, but others call it "image rehab".

In fact, just as Jamal Khashoggi's murder was being whitewashed in Riyadh, a few miles away in Diriyah, the MDL Beast music festival was taking place. The event, which included acts by world famous DJ David Guetta and electronic artist Steve Aoki, was attended by a host of liberal western celebrities including movie stars and supermodels.

Most of these celebrities were keen to portray hugely positive images of the Kingdom to their millions of followers on social media without any mention of its vast and ongoing human rights abuses, including the recent beheading of 37 gay people and a crackdown on critics and reformers.  

This perhaps illustrates the prevailing dichotomy in not just Saudi but many parts of the world - bubbles of affluence to be enjoyed by global elites, interspersed among zones of totalitarianism, where poorer populations are caged by tyrannies and the viciousness necessary to main them.  

Jamal Khashoggi wrote about the real Saudi Arabia - the Saudi Arabia of victims and survivors of plundering, parasitic princes, beheadings, near genocidal war crimes and torture dungeons. The Saudi where free speech is non-existent and where open criticism of the House of Saud is to dice with death.

It is tragedy set against the cruellest irony, that Khashoggi himself, with his own murder, should provide the ultimate proof of this.

Many will point to the reforms that MBS has undertaken, such as loosening the restrictions on women traveling and other rights that most take as a given, as something to be celebrated. But these "reforms", while of course a positive for Saudi women on a day-to-day basis, are merely a case of a regime, in the face of the Arab Spring, facing up to its own mortality and attempting to bolster itself.  

It will allow women to be free enough that western celebrities and influencers can endorse the country, but never free zto the extent that they challenge the totalitarian stranglehold that the House of Saud has on their lives. 

It's difficult to see what lies ahead for Saudi Arabia in the era of MBS. Probably more boxing matches, music festivals and other events for the super-rich.  

But almost certainly not justice. 

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

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