Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Impact of the Khashoggi Killing
HIRAYAMA Kentaro / Journalist

February 21, 2019
Toward the end of last year, Time magazine announced its Person of the Year for 2018, giving collective recognition to the “guardians of truth,” a group of journalists engaged on the defensive side in the “war on truth,” according to the magazine’s wording. One of these was the US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate general in Istanbul, Turkey. The 2018 selection marked the first instance of Time recognizing someone no longer living as the person of the year.

On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the consulate to handle some paperwork related to his marriage with a Turkish woman; there he was killed by Saudi intelligence officials and others. The journalist had fled to the United States in 2017 after drawing Saudi ire for his fierce condemnations of human rights depredations by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who wields power in Riyadh, and of the country’s military intervention in the Yemeni civil war. He continued criticizing the Saudi regime as a columnist for the Washington Post, and was rumored to have been in touch with antigovernment forces in the Middle Eastern kingdom. Following the killing, the Saudi government, confronted with evidence in the form of audio captured by listening devices placed in the consulate by the Turkish authorities, was forced to admit that murder had taken place; to this day, though, it continues to maintain that the crown prince was not involved in the incident. The team of operatives that carried out the killing, however, is known to have included members of the crown prince’s security detail, and the general take on the situation is that not only was it a premeditated murder, there is little room for doubt about the prince’s personal involvement.

In recent years Saudi Arabia had been seeking to improve its international image and carry out domestic reforms. The kingdom’s state religion is Wahhabism, a fundamentalist strain of Islam; terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists, including the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, has frequently involved Saudi nationals, and the government in Riyadh is increasingly cognizant that doctrinal excesses in the state religion have contributed to this terrorism. Saudi Arabian educators had previously viewed the era prior to the emergence of Islam in the seventh century CE as Jahiliyyah—an “age of ignorance” when humankind was straying from the proper path—and left it out of the school curriculum in history classes. Recently, however, the Saudi authorities have approved investigations of ancient ruins in the kingdom by foreign archaeological teams, and statues and craft items from the pre-Islamic period unearthed on the Arabian Peninsula have been exhibited in Japan and the countries of the West. There have been official moves, in other words, to recognize historical fact as fact, demarcating it from the realm to be ruled by religious dogma.

Recently there have been other bold moves aimed at weakening the grip of fundamentalism: allowing women to drive and allowing the screening of movies in public theaters, for instance. The 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was the driver of these reforms. He also took steps to wrest Saudi Arabia away from its reliance on petroleum and otherwise modernize its economy, building an image for himself as a leader whose methods could be rough, but who was headed in the reform direction. This makes the impact of the Khashoggi killing all the greater. With it the prince’s image has shifted 180 degrees to that of an unpredictable tyrant, and Saudi Arabia itself has suffered reputational harm. This is a serious matter for many members of the royal family; there is discontent with the way that King Salman rapidly elevated his son Mohammed to his position of power, and the crown prince now finds himself in a precarious position where his very future position in the kingdom could be impacted.

As one outcome of this whole incident, though, it is worth focusing on the increasing moves toward peace mediation in the Yemeni civil war. In 2015, when the Houthi—an antigovernment armed movement aligned with a Shia sect of Islam—unilaterally declared itself to be in charge of the nation neighboring Saudi Arabia, the Saudis and Gulf states threw their support behind President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s provisional government and began their military intervention in the conflict. After the fighting bogged down and numerous civilians lost their lives to air raids and other attacks, the United States intensified its criticism of the war, in November 2018 demanding that the sides engineer a ceasefire.

Amid these developments, in December last year a UN-brokered ceasefire brought the two sides to the table in Sweden for peace talks. The Hadi government and Houthi rebels agreed to a prisoner swap extending to some thousands of prisoners of war, as well as to cease hostilities in the port city of Hudaydah, a vital base for supplying humanitarian operations in the war-stricken nation. Chances are high that the Saudis, in order to prevent American views of their nation from worsening still more, pressed the provisional Yemeni government to take its place at the negotiating table. If the murder of Jamal Khashoggi—who opposed military intervention in the struggle and argued for the necessity of a civil reconciliation in Yemen that recognized the rights of the country’s Shia residents—helps to bring about peace there, it will be one step closer to the reality that he wanted to see on the Arabian Peninsula.

Kentaro Hirayama is a former NHK Executive Commentator.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山 健太郎 / ジャーナリスト

2019年 2月 21日






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Impact of the Khashoggi Killing