How can the west continue to do business
with the man who approved Jamal Khashoggi’s murder?
emerged of the gruesome 2018 murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of the
exiled dissident and journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, most observers became
convinced it could not have happened without the approval of the all-powerful
Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The US intelligence report, published last week, definitively supports
Joe Biden is to
be commended for making the CIA’s findings public after they were blocked by
Donald Trump. The US sanctions imposed on Saudi government employees involved
in the killing, and new measures to curb foreign agents who harass dissidents
abroad, are welcome. But Biden’s too-pragmatic decision not to penalise Salman
himself, the plot’s ringleader, and, in effect, let him off the hook, is
behind this shabby act of realpolitik is obvious enough. Saudi Arabia is an important
western ally. Its cooperation is needed if Iran’s destabilising regional
activities and nuclear programme are to be curbed. Hopes that Riyadh will
follow the UAE and Bahrain in normalising ties with Israel are a factor, too.
Saudi Arabia remains a key energy producer. And the crown prince, 35, is likely
to lead the country for decades to come.
too long, the House of Saud’s authoritarianism has been tolerated in exchange
for cheap oil and arms sales
Yet Biden also
says upholding human rights is a top priority. He has made ending the
disastrous war in Yemen, where Saudi forces are engaged, an important policy
objective. To this end, he has already suspended sales of offensive weapons.
Speaking last week to King Salman, the crown prince’s father, Biden said he
wanted to recalibrate the overall US-Saudi relationship on the basis of
increased respect for universal values.
contradiction is glaring. How can Biden, and Britain’s foreign secretary,
Dominic Raab, credibly stress the paramount importance of human rights and the
international rule of law while continuing to do business with a man the US
publicly accuses of conspiracy to murder? What happens when Salman next visits
Washington or London? Will he be arrested? On the principle of universal
jurisdiction employed by a German court to try Syrian war criminals last week, he certainly
the lethal activities of the Rapid Intervention Force, a Saudi special
forces-style unit, will the US and UK demand its disbandment and the
prosecution of its commanders and operatives? Several members of the hit squad that murdered Khashoggi in Istanbul belonged to the RIF.
“The group exists to defend the crown prince [and] answers only to him,” the
CIA report said.
Biden’s stance, Saudi leaders took pre-emptive action. Prominent Saudi women’s
rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul and the journalist Nouf Abdulaziz were
recently freed from jail. Yet other leading women activists are still
reportedly held. They include Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Mayaa
al-Zahrani, along with many other political prisoners.
selective releases are not nearly enough. If the Saudi royals are determined to
protect the crown prince rather than sack him, as he deserves, a broader
relaxation of regime controls on democratic rights must be the west’s price for
continued normal relations. For too long, the House of Saud’s authoritarianism
has been tolerated in exchange for cheap oil and arms sales. In an age of
climate crisis and pandemic disease, this cynical bargain stinks.
What should the
British government do? It must not allow geostrategic concerns to trump fundamental rights and values. It
should sanction the crown prince, at the very least, by adding his name to the
list of 20 Saudi nationals on whom Raab imposed travel bans and asset freezes last year over their involvement in
halt sales of weapons and equipment that could be used in Yemen or to suppress
domestic dissent. And it should unreservedly back efforts to bring Mohammed bin
Salman to justice for conspiracy to murder.
‘He’ll be like Khashoggi’: Wife fears for
Saudi-Australian detained in Morocco
A Saudi-Australian citizen detained in
Morocco last month is facing possible extradition to Saudi Arabia, where his
life could be under threat, his wife has warned. Osama al-Hasani, a businessman
who holds dual Saudi and Australian citizenship, was arrested on 8 February
while visiting his newborn child in Morocco. He was detained four
hours after arriving at Casablanca’s international airport: