Khashoggi ban: What’s next?

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A Turkish police officer walks past a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of his death, Oct. 2, 2019, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: AP/UNB

Will the administration of new US President Joe Biden drain the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in a soft and tactful manner, in contrast to the ugly way that the administration of his predecessor, Trump, was following?

The previous question reveals the speculations that are currently being circulated among the political, legal and media circles in the Middle East, and perhaps in various parts of the world, since the Biden administration unveiled a report published by the US intelligence services claiming MBS knew about and approved the plan to kill 59-year-old journalist Khashoggi, whose body has never been recovered.

He was a regular contributor to the Washington Post.

The report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, cited the crown prince’s control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia as well as the involvement of a key advisor and members of the prince’s special security in the operation that killed Khashoggi, a critic of the royal family.

After the report was released earlier this year, Yassin Aktay, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, considered that the administration of US President Joe Biden was using the file of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a "trump card" against Saudi Arabia and a "tool" to achieve its policies.

Aktay, who had a friendly relationship with Khashoggi, said, “The Biden administration is not seeking justice or victory for human values in the Khashoggi case. On the contrary, it wants to use this file as a tool to achieve its own policies in the Middle East.

Despite the attempts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to close the Khashoggi case file, or to cover it up in the media, the British Independent newspaper published a report, as I wrote this article, on Sunday, March 21, 2021, saying:

Lawyers of the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi say they have served the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a legal complaint – allowing proceedings against the Saudi royal to proceed.

Last year, Hatice Cengiz, who was poised to marry the writer and activist, and member of a non-profit group the Saudi journalist established in Washington DC, filed a lawsuit against the 35-year-old prince, commonly known as MBS, accusing him and others of the kidnap, drugging, torture, and assassination of the US resident.

“The ruthless torture and murder of Mr Khashoggi shocked the conscience of people throughout the world. The objective of the murder was clear – to halt Mr Khashoggi’s advocacy in the United States, principally as the executive director of Plaintiff Dawn [Democracy for the Arab World Now], for democratic reform in the Arab world,” the lawsuit said.

The crown prince has always denied the allegations and insisted he had nothing to do with the killing of Khashoggi, who was last seen alive when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Since the publication of the CIA report, various reactions have been issued, focusing on the position of Saudi researchers and experts, who commented on the report, not only rejecting it, which is understandable, but reducing its impact on relations between Riyadh and Washington.

As for American or Arab experts, they considered that the report represents a shift. There is a great variety in the American administration’s approach to the issue of human rights and democracy in the Middle East.

During his campaign for the White House, Joe Biden claimed he would pursue MBS and Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi.

At one point he said he would make them “pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are”.

Yet after the report was published, he stepped back from punishing MBS specifically, even as his administration sanctioned other senior Saudis.

“The relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” secretary of state Antony Blinken said at a news conference.

Mr Biden also defended his actions, telling ABC News he was the “guy that released the report”, unlike his predecessor, Donald Trump, who refused to do so.

He added: “We held accountable all the people in that organisation – but not the crown prince, because we have never that I’m aware of, when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracised him.”

Earlier, Mr. Blinken wrote in Twitter, “Spoke (today) with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, we discussed the importance of Saudi reforms to improve respect for human rights, our cooperation to end the conflict in Yemen, and joint efforts to defend the Kingdom from external threats.”

The murder of journalist and U.S. lawful permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi shocked the world.

 Starting today, we will have a new global policy bearing his name (Khashoggi ban) to impose visa restrictions on those who engage in extraterritorial attacks on journalists or activists.

From the above, it has become understandable that:

- President Biden does not want to shake up strategic relations with Saudi Arabia, but at the same time, he does not want to communicate with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, which is a difficult and complex issue, and perhaps the best scenario for bin Salman is that his father does not die. King Salman during Biden's tenure, because if he died before that the door would be open to speculation.

- Also, it can be said that Biden's decision to publish the "CIA" report is essentially an official announcement to "dismiss" and "freeze" bin Salman until a significant change in his behavior.

- Biden did not really begin to punish bin Salman for all his actions because he did not want to harm Saudi-American relations, but the punishment may begin with the announcement of the death of King Salman, then at that time the green light may be given to the family princes to refuse to pledge allegiance to the crown prince and exclude him and open a new page with a new person.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Adel Al-Jubeir stressed that the relationship between United States and Saudi Arabia was “strong, dynamic and multifaceted.”

“The (Biden) administration has made it very, very clear that it is committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia, that it is committed to defending Saudi against external threats,” he said.

“So, I really don’t see much of a change between this administration and the previous administration in terms of their commitment to Saudi Arabia.”

He pointed out that relations between the two countries go back 80 years, and have been an important factor in maintaining global stability and security.

“Our relationship with the US is a strategic relationship. We have economic interests and financial interests. We work to fight extremism and terrorism,” Al-Jubeir said.

“We work to stabilize the region — whether it’s trying to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians; whether it’s in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan; trying to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan; whether it’s stabilizing Sudan; whether it’s working to end the war in Libya or to deal with the G5 (Sahel) countries, in their fight against Boko Haram.

Finally: Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Morsi wrote on his Facebook page, saying: The most that the Biden administration will succeed with Saudi Arabia is to continue some of Trump's methods of blackmail after developing its outward appearance, and achieving additional economic and military benefits.

Ambassador Morsi added, "The Biden administration will retreat from many of its current declared conditions, under the pressure of the game of interests and the balances of the international conflict, and under the pressure of the de facto facts in our Arab region and its complications. I expect Saudi Arabia to overcome the bottleneck in its relations with Washington with the beginnings of the Biden era." And the Democrats.

Kamal Gaballa, Former Managing Editor of Al-Ahram

  • Killed Khashoggi
  • Journalist Jamal Khashoggi
  • Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • US President Joe Biden
  • Khashoggi ban: What’s next?
  • Middle East

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