President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has for some time desired for Turkey to replace Saudi Arabia as the dominant force in the Middle East. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has demonstrated a well played opportunity to damage Saudi influence in the area, allowing for Turkey to fill the void as the new regional power.
Turkey has been forcing Saudi Arabia to go on the defensive in relation to the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Following two weeks of denials by the Saudi government, they admitted that Khashoggi was killed within the consulate. Officials of Saudi Arabia have called it a “rogue operation” and vowed to find and bring penalties to those involved. However, President Trump stated in an interview with The Washington Post that “there’s been deception and there’s been lies” from the Saudi government.
Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent journalist in Saudi Arabia who came to be exiled by the royal family after writing a monthly column criticizing the Crown Prince’s policies. After his first article was published, he said that many people were being detained by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an evident suppression on dissidents. This crackdown was a result of the ambitious social and economic reforms in Saudi Arabia.
The journalist entered the consulate Oct. 2 to receive the necessary documents to marry his Turkish fiancee. His fiancee waited for him outside of the building for hours without him ever re-emerging.
The Turkish authorities were quick to state that Khashoggi had been murdered, gruesomely, and had hard evidence to prove such an accusation. For about two weeks, the Saudi government claimed that he had left the building alive but after the weeks of global outcry and pressure from the west, Saudi Arabia had admitted to Khashoggi being killed inside the consulate.
Turkey began using this case of wrongful death by the Saudi government to repair relations with the United States by releasing the U.S. pastor, Andrew Brunson. The pastor was being held prisoner in Turkey for nearly two years under charges for helping with the attempted coup in 2016 to overthrow President Erdogan. President Trump told reporters “[we] feel much different about Turkey today than we did yesterday” and that he had great hope of having “a very, very good relationship.”
Since the Arab Spring in 2010, Turkey has been emerging as a rival Middle Eastern power when it supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt whereas Saudi Arabia harshly did not. Erdogan is an Islamist and many parties in the region that are as well, look to him for leadership and guidance. The Saudi Crown Prince had accused Erdogan as attempting to “reinstate the Islamic Caliphate” of the previous Ottoman Empire.
The Crown Prince is a vital piece of the coalition in rejecting the ideas of the Islamist coalition in the Middle East. By revealing the details of the murder of journalist Khashoggi, Erdogan is sending a wave of anxiety towards the Crown Prince and his hopes of suppressing the Islamists.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have worked closely together to outlaw the Islamic Brotherhood type of political parties and terrorist groups. And last year, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates worked to isolate Qatar due to the country’s support for the Brotherhood Islamists.
There has been evident hostility between Turkey and the Emirates and Saudi Arabia since the Arab Spring. Some have noted that Turkey may be using the Khashoggi affair to get Saudi Arabia to rethink current deals that have helped to crash the Turkish currency.
The Saudi government has spent the last year positioning itself to be the key ally in the Middle East to the U.S. and other Western nations. During this time, Erdogan and Trump were having staunching disagreements and attacks over the jailing of an American pastor which concluded with strong sanctions and a horrible relationship with the U.S.
For Ankara, the death of Khashoggi came at a great time, being that it was the day after Erdogan speech stating his ambition for regional leadership. He used the murder of the Saudi journalist to prove that the U.S.-Saudi relationship was morally unjustified. Because Turkey took it under their power to release key information and hype up the gruesome death, the public and media of the West were outraged, thus affecting the alliance between the West and the Saudi’s.
It is important to note that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both authoritarian regimes where gruesome murders committed by the government are a regular occurrence. Saudi Arabia still beheads people as punishment for crimes against the state. Turkey is known for suppressing the media and holding many journalists hostage, much like the Saudi government did with Khashoggi.
It is ironic that Erdogan, who strongly opposes the media, could find himself to be the greatest beneficiary of the Western outcry over the death of a journalist.
Photo courtesy of apnews.com.