Turkey Pulse

Turkey frustrated over Western inaction in Khashoggi murder case

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Article Summary
Ankara’s push for an international investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is also widening the gap between Arab regimes and Turkey.

Ankara is disappointed with the Western response to the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, which Turkish officials believe was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Ankara’s apparent determination to force Saudi Arabia to account for the slaying of Khashoggi also appears set to widen the existing gap between Turkey and the established Arab regimes in the Middle East.

Most of these regimes have lined up behind Riyadh for economic and political reasons, or merely out of a sense of Arab solidarity in the face of what they see as Turkish meddling in Arab affairs.

Many statements out of Western capitals condemning this murder and demanding accountability, as well as moves in the US Congress to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia, have failed to make any significant difference so far.

Turkish officials are concerned that Western governments are refraining from pressuring Riyadh because of the economic and strategic importance of Saudi Arabia to their interests.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is particularly annoyed with Washington over its equivocal position on the topic, which is reflected in the different positions taken by the Donald Trump administration and the US Congress.

In an interview with the state-owned TRT network on Feb. 3, Erdogan reiterated the gory details of Khashoggi’s murder and underlined that the CIA had briefed members of Congress about these.

“I can’t understand America’s silence in the face of such savagery. … We say let all be revealed. What are you hiding and why are you hiding it?” Erdogan said accusingly.

“It is our duty to reveal this savagery. … The Saudi administration has to answer for this,” Erdogan added, taking his criticism of Riyadh and Washington to a different level.

“We see those who are involved in coups around the world, and in Egypt. The mentality that slaughtered Khashoggi is no different,” he said.

Erdogan was referring to the US attempt to topple Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and to Saudi Arabia’s support for the coup in Egypt in 2013, which brought Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power.

During a public address in Istanbul in January, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused some Western countries of actively seeking to cover up the Khashoggi murder.

“I say this openly and clearly. There are some Western countries that are trying to see this matter closed," Cavusoglu said. "We also see how those in the world who talk about press freedom are trying to cover up this affair once they see the money."

He added that Turkey would pursue this matter to the end and announced Ankara’s intention to have an international investigation opened into Khashoggi’s murder.

Turkey’s efforts to promote such an investigation, however, have provided few results so far.

Turkish officials are currently making much of Agnes Callamard's visit to Istanbul this month. The delegation led by the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings set out to investigate the Khashoggi murder.

Callamard was not allowed into the Saudi Consulate to investigate, and judging by her contacts during her visit, her findings will be based mainly on evidence provided by the Turkish side.

Ankara is trying now to elevate Callamard’s visit to a level of international significance that it did not have.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told CBS Feb. 10 that Callamard’s visit to Turkey was her own decision, and that her opinions “are not United Nations opinions.”

Callamard, who arrived in Turkey on Ankara’s invitation, admitted to as much in an interview while in Istanbul, saying she visited on her own initiative.

“There being, to date, no signal that the UN and member states intend to demand officially or implement an international criminal investigation, I felt the duty,” she told Hurriyet Daily News.

She appeared skeptical, however, when asked about the effect the report on her findings, which she will submit to the UN Human Rights Council in June, would have.

“The council members no doubt will consider, if not debate — at least to some extent — my recommendations, but as to whether or not they will accept those recommendations and then take action accordingly remains to be seen,” Callamard said.

Turkish officials are also aware of the limitation of Callamard’s mission, but are hoping that her report will contribute to keeping the heat on Riyadh.

Middle East analyst Sigurd Neubauer, however, believes there is little appetite internationally to act against Saudi Arabia because of its position as a major player in global oil and arms markets.

"We also know how that for [Callamard's] report to go anywhere, it needs support from the big powers. And the US and others seem to have concluded that they're going to stick with the Saudi leadership, even if it was behind a brutal murder," Neubauer told Al Jazeera.

Although Turkey has gotten little satisfaction over this matter so far, it nevertheless appears determined to keep the pressure on Saudi Arabia.

Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Erdogan, believes that it is “not only Turkey’s job but also its responsibility to push for an international investigation into this murder.”

Alerted by Khashoggi’s Turkish fiance Hatice Cengiz, Aktay was the one who blew the whistle after Khashoggi went missing, having entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and failing to come out again.

Acknowledging that Callamard has limited powers and is not in a position to enforce anything, Aktay wrote in his column in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily that Callamard, who he met and briefed, was “looking to Turkey to take the initiative.”

Despite its febrile efforts to do just that, it is not clear what more Ankara can do at this stage, given the apparent reluctance of Western governments to act more energetically to bring those behind Khashoggi’s murder to justice.

Turkey is not getting much support in this regard from its regional partners Russia and Iran. Iran has preferred to remain silent over this affair, even if it involves its bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia.

The Russian position, on the other hand, was made tangibly apparent in the warm “high five” Crown Prince Salman and President Vladimir Putin exchanged at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in November.

With Russia’s own record on extrajudicial killings of journalists, Moscow appears to be the last place Ankara can rely on for support in this matter, which is significant given that Russia is a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.

This overall picture suggests that Turkey may ultimately find itself alone in pursuing its campaign for “justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” despite the lip service being paid in the West on the need to make Riyadh account for this crime.

By pursuing the matter, Turkey is also risking further isolation in the Middle East, where it has made more enemies than friends since the failed Arab Spring.

Many believe that Ankara’s interest in this case has more to do with its sympathy and support for the Muslim Brotherhood — which Khashoggi reportedly also had links to — than anything else.

From Saudi Arabia to Egypt, most of the key Arab powers in the region loathe the Brotherhood, which they see as an existential threat to their rule.

This makes it almost inevitable that they see Ankara’s campaign to seek justice for Khashoggi as being essentially driven by its sympathy for the Brotherhood.

This, in turn, is driving a wedge between Arab powers and Turkey — a wedge that emerged after Ankara made its strong support for the Brotherhood even more apparent and deeper.

Since the Arab Spring, the realities that govern the Middle East, which are also being driven by the economic and political interests of global powers and their regional allies, have defied Turkish expectations on many counts.

This has also undermined Ankara’s efforts to be the leading regional power and a beacon for Arab nations as they overthrow their authoritarian rulers one by one.

It appears that Ankara’s latest attempt to leave its mark in the Middle East, this time through the Khashoggi affair, may also be destined to fail, while adding to the residue of anti-Turkish sentiments among regional Arab regimes.

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Found in: Khashoggi

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.

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