By Sam Tilley
The disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has put further strain on diplomatic ties between two of the most powerful governments in the Middle East. Tensions have been high ever since the previously steadfast allies disagreed over the Saudi-led campaign to isolate Qatar towards the end of last year.
Whilst thus far the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has not openly accused Saudi Arabia of Khashoggi’s murder, Turkey has ordered access to the consulate and has also demanded Saudi Arabia prove that the journalist exited the premises, despite not presenting any evidence that he was killed inside. For their part, Saudi Arabia have denied any suggestion that they are complicit in Khashoggi’s disappearance, stating that they were “open to cooperation” and permitted a search of the consulate’s grounds.
In recent years, there have been attempts by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to liberalise certain aspects of Saudi society, the most noticeable examples being the introduction of women drivers, the building of public cinemas and opening the country up to greater international business. Despite the social overhaul started by the ‘Saudi 2030’ program, there are still strict restrictions on the media and Freedom House, an internationally renowned human rights thinktank, describes the press as “not free”. It was because of these restrictions that Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Crown Prince Salman, found himself living in self-imposed exile in the United States with little chance of returning to his home country.
Traditionally, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have enjoyed a strong and friendly economic relationship, but the diplomatic crisis in Qatar has recently created a political rift between the two countries. This rift has been exacerbated by Turkish support and cooperation with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s ideological rival. However, both sides are aware that any escalation in this case could have wide-reaching effects within the proxy conflicts that are currently being fought across the Middle East, in addition to an impact on trade between the two states.
Nevertheless, if it is proven that Saudi Arabia had any hand in Khashoggi’s disappearance, this blatant violation of Turkish sovereignty would surely not go unanswered, with one former Turkish official stating off the record that Turkey would make a “moral and honourable choice” over any potential economic concerns. Regardless, it becomes clearer and clearer each day that if anything happened in the Saudi Arabian consulate, it will have far reaching consequences for the Middle East.