Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 33-year-old de facto leader of Saudi Arabia widely praised as a “reformist” by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and others, turns out to be a suspected murderer.
Here’s what happened: 5 days ago, Jamal Khashoggi, a one-time Saudi insider who became a prominent critic and self-exiled in Washington, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to get a document he needed to re-marry. His fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said he never emerged.
The Washington Post reports that Turkish investigators now believe that a 15-member murder team sent in from Saudi Arabia killed Khashoggi inside the consulate. There have been further reports that his body was dismembered before being removed.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lied in an interview with Bloomberg, saying Khashoggi had left the Istanbul consulate soon after he arrived.
Jamal Khashoggi, 59 years old, had contributed regularly to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, edited by the excellent Karen Attiah. After his disappearance, she wrote:
Jamal is one of the leading proponents of freedom and democratic change throughout the [Mideast] region, and he frequently denounces the harsh tactics deployed by the Saudi authorities against prominent clerics, business owners, female activists and social media figures. I ask him from time too time if he is okay, if he is feeling safe. He insists that he feels the need to write, despite the pressures from the Saudi authorities.
Khashoggi bravely criticized the Saudi war against Yemen, in which tens of thousands of civilians have already died from air attacks and a cholera epidemic.
The likely murder of Khashoggi is a stunning rebuke to Thomas Friedman and to the American business leaders and officials who feted the Saudi Crown Prince during his visit to the U.S. earlier this year, who included President Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, George W. Bush, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
Friedman and the others affectionately nicknamed bin Salman “MBS,” after his initials, in a further effort to humanize him.
Friedman’s unerring instinct for terrible analysis didn’t desert him during his visit to Saudi Arabia last November, when he stayed up half the night interviewing bin Salman and then gushed, “The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. Yes, you read that right.” In a report titled “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last,” Friedman lathered the prince with praise:
I told him his work habits reminded me of a line in the play “Hamilton,” when the chorus asks: Why does he always work like “he’s running out of time.”
“Because,” said M.B.S., “I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind.
Surely bin Salman is lionized partly because he has formed a tacit alliance with Israel, with rumors of cooperation on security matters.
So now the reformist hero is exposed as a suspected killer, who ordered the death of a man who did nothing more than write newspaper columns. Over the next few days, the squirming by Thomas Friedman and others will be something to see.
Update from editor. Just as North predicted, Friedman is squirming. On twitter:
Trump, Kushner. I don’t usually tweet opinions, but here goes: you need to get the Saudis to find/release Jamal Khashoggi. Without constructive critics like him, Saudi econ reform will fail.
Another update: Here is a link to more of Jamal Khashoggi’s columns in the Washington Post: