Why Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance will haunt the Saudi government

The disappearance and reported killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi will have many victims, starting with his family and his fiancee. But unless the Saudi government speaks and acts quickly and honestly about this terrible event, its own reputation will incur irreparable damage.

.. its central characteristic and greatest flaw was despotism: one-man rule by the young crown prince. To this critique were added descriptions of his impulsiveness, inexperience and repression of any criticism of his approach to modernization.

.. Defenders of the new regime (including me) have argued in essence that MBS, as the crown prince is known, is in the traditional and positive sense of the term an “enlightened despot.” Though he was an absolute ruler, in this reading, he was one who used his power rationally to bring economic and social reforms, modernize his country and address the many developmental problems that hamper Saudi Arabia despite its wealth. He appears, for example, to have reined in the ultra-conservative clergy, has begun to improve the status and role of women, and has adopted plans aimed at creating a productive economy not dependent solely on oil production.

.. His detention of many very rich Saudis in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel until they paid ransoms was apparently fairly popular in the kingdom, because it was widely believed few of those men had gained their fortunes legitimately. Those ransoms were equivalent to the taxes they had never paid.

.. The alleged killing of Khashoggi is a death blow to all those hopes and expectations, unless the Saudis can somehow explain what happened and accept full responsibility.

.. Second, the reported Khashoggi killing came just a few weeks after the bizarre Saudi overreactionto criticism from Canada, which took the form of a single tweet on human rights issues. Recalling their ambassador from Ottawa for a while would have been fitting if they wished to show anger. Instead, they brought him home permanently, expelled the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh, barred flights between the two countries, ordered Saudi students to leave Canada, and took several steps to diminish economic and financial relations with Canada. All that over a tweet.

.. And now comes the apparent murder, abroad, of a critic who had long been part of the Saudi establishment and was no revolutionary, no radical Islamist, no advocate of violence. I do not know Jamal Khashoggi well, but we had met and talked about the kingdom on several occasions. Any government that thinks it cannot survive his thoughtful criticism telegraphs to the world that it thinks itself shaky indeed.

.. Killing Khashoggi would be both: a great crime and a great mistake. It suggests either

  • a regime without internal procedures and controls, or
  • one in which an impulsive decision to kill a critic living in Washington cannot be contradicted or even questioned.

.. The Saudis may not realize what a wide impact that conclusion will have on governments and on investors, but it will be profound. All Saudi decision-making will come into question, and the government’s reliability as a partner will be rendered uncertain.

.. What the crown prince must grasp is that his entire modernization program, indeed every defense of his own personal power, is undermined by what all the evidence suggests was a carefully planned murder. Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.

Turkey’s Erdogan Is Turning Into a Strongman

Country’s president, strongly supported by conservatives, Islamists and nationalists, is accumulating authority, purging thousands accused of involvement in a failed July coup, and ruling by decree

.. A song titled the “Erdogan March” lauds what it calls the lion-hearted protector of the global Muslim community, and became aTwitter top trend in Turkey.

.. Mr. Erdogan delivers daily hourlong speeches, which television stations that haven’t been shut down uniformly broadcast live

..The murder of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Dec. 19 capped 10 days of violence, including bombings that killed at least 58 people—volatility that only strengthens Mr. Erdogan’s push for expanded powers.

.. His unfolding efforts to reshape Turkey place Mr. Erdogan in the vanguard of illiberal populism personified by leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

.. Mr. Erdogan’s movement has been a long campaign against a secular elite installed early last century by Turkish independence hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and kept in power by the military.

.. His movement, sometimes called Erdoganismo, is an Islamist-infused cocktail of winner-take-all democracy, nationalism and nostalgia for the past glories of this onetime center of the Ottoman Empire. Those sidelined include the once-dominant secular and West-leaning intelligentsia, along with ethnic and religious minorities.

.. The secret to the power grab is a political base of religious Sunni Muslims who have seen their incomes rise, their formerly circumscribed rights restored, and their pride enhanced by Mr. Erdogan’s policies.

.. Supporters say Mr. Erdogan, who has marshaled nine AKP election victories since 2002, has shown himself a benevolent and capable leader. Dismissing the idea he is autocratic, they credit his skill at developing trust and credibility across society.

.. The narrative is transparent—Erdogan is on a constant march toward absolute power

.. Then his government ousted scores of pro-Kurdish mayors on terrorism charges.

.. Party co-founders have been sidelined or silenced, their names erased from AKP literature.

.. His party swept to power in 2002 after courting European and U.S. policy makers enamored by the thought of an Islamist democratic party in the mold of Christian Democrats like Germany’s.

.. He framed protesters as elitists or foreign agents.

.. He should be handed as much power as he needs, Mr. Toraman in Sivas said, because “he’s restoring Turkey’s historic greatness.”

.. Heartland supporters say outsiders can’t imagine how dramatically Mr. Erdogan’s rule has improved life for Turks once limited by an immutable class system. Seeking treatment for illness was a challenge. Families couldn’t afford to send children to school. Conservative men tell of being ousted from the staunchly secularist military because of their piety.

.. Mr. Erdogan’s party revoked the headscarf law, and her future widened. Now, as she finishes a master’s degree in optical engineering, Ms. Subutay is angling for a coveted job with a defense contractor, Aselsan, which has opened an optics factory in Sivas. Until recently, it would have been impossible for a headscarfed woman.

.. Mr. Erdogan’s appeal also owes in part to a Teflon ability to deflect bad press.

.. The president’s lifestyle has moved beyond comfortable to opulent. He lives in an 1,100-room palace with 1,800 employees.

.. Mr. Erdogan started invoking the phrase “national will” to defend his policies, which primarily cater to his Islamist supporters. Mr. Erdogan has ignored pleas from minorities in favor of rhetoric that galvanizes nationalist feeling and the Sunni majority.

..

In last year’s elections, however, the HDP doubled its previous showing and won 13%. That was enough to deny Mr. Erdogan’s party a ruling majority in parliament.

Mr. Erdogan then accused the HDP of supporting terrorism. He revived scorched-earth tactics against Kurdish insurgents. He froze the peace talks and called snap elections. With voters spooked by rising violence and insecurity, the AKP was propelled back to majority control of parliament.