Welcome to the bizarre world of MBS
Still, emptiness aside, his strategy to pass himself off as a great modernizing force has failed. He may have intended to bring Saudi Arabia to the modern world, but, instead he has forever tarnished it in irreparable ways. This, however, is not what is so shocking. Rather, it’s how he seemed to have won the hearts of so many in the West, which is bewildering. Absurdly, he was championed as an ambitious, young leader, a great visionary and sincere advocate of women’s rights. Instead, he has murdered critics, imprisoned several women, curbed any form of healthy debate and scoffed at moral restraints. Welcome to the bizarre world of MBS.
Unfortunately, America’s reliance on an uninterrupted, steady flow of cheap oil, hundreds of billions of dollars in military sales, and need for a pliable partner to support their Middle East peace plan, encouraged them to turn a blind eye, no matter how repugnant MBS’s actions. That, though, has now changed. It seems that the U.S. is realizing how seriously it miscalculated. Rather than exercise caution and restraint, they only ended up emboldening MBS. And, that fatal mistake is now coming back to haunt the Trump administration. Clearly, MBS is not a reliable or trustworthy partner. Time and time again, he has consistently revealed his proclivity for cruelty, whether with the unjust siege on Qatar, the inhumane war in Yemen, the brazen kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri, support for the terrorist Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, his temper tantrum against Canada, and underwriting extremist ideologies throughout the world and, as is becoming increasingly clear, the horrific murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Now, more than ever, the civilized world needs freedom from MBS as much as the Saudi people do.
What is so frustrating is how a megalomaniac seems to be haphazardly leading one of the largest oil suppliers in the world and a very important global country – Saudi Arabia. Yet, as left-wing social commentator and political theorist Slavoj Zizek cynically stated, the election victory of U.S. President Donald Trump was partly due to America’s desperate need for a reset – a jolt so severe that it shakes it back to its senses. This is, to be precise, where MBS fits in Saudi Arabia. He is a shocking, anti-establishment, unapologetic and murderous, mad boy king drunk on power, and perhaps tequila, apparently. All of us should have seen this coming, from kidnapping his own relatives and shaking them down for billions; or, for being the judge, jury and executioner who doesn’t even feign any semblance of respect for the rule of law. In the world of MBS, “might is right” and such a partner cannot be taken on board seriously. Moreover, he has become increasingly sadistic and irresponsible with his actions. Such is the audacity of evil that, without any restraint, he gleefully acts and behaves as if no one or nothing can stop him. Secular authoritarianism in the Middle East produces a tyranny that its sacred counterpoint could never come close to resembling. Make no mistake, MBS is the antithesis of anything ethical or Islamic.
The Khashoggi story
Just take a close look at how MBS has handled the entire Jamal Khashoggi debacle. From the beginning, outrageously, the Saudi establishment blatantly denied any culpability. As if their mere words were enough to convince the world. Saudi media outlets were ripe with accusations that the “disappearance” of Khashoggi was a cleverly orchestrated plot carried out by Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not just laughable, its outright thoughtless – both to say it, and for anyone to believe it. Looking closely, first, we are told by Saudi officials that “Jamal left the premises” shortly after he entered, even though his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, was waiting outside and did not see him. Second, when asked to produce video surveillance, they are unable to do so and, adding to the mystery, say that consulate cameras were not functioning. Third, they give all Turkish staff and several other non-diplomatic staff half-day holidays, just prior to Khashoggi entering the consulate. Fourth, two private jets, from Sky Prime Aviation Services – and privately owned, purportedly, by the Saudi Government, or even MBS, himself – bring 15 Saudi intelligence and security personnel, including the Chief of Forensic Medicine of the Saudi Interior Services, to Istanbul. This is not just suspicious, but clearly incriminating. Still, with all this evidence piling up, the Saudi establishment continued with a comical “deny, deny, deny and blame the Qatari guy” attitude that just makes them look even more guilty. Over three weeks later, they have admitted that Khashoggi died in a “fistfight.” Outrageous.
With all this information coming to light, and the continuous Turkish intelligence leaks – “death by a thousand cuts,” and the most recent leak of 11 minutes of audio and video that authenticate the brutal murder and dismemberment, his death is a forgone conclusion. Those recordings, incidentally, have been shared with The Washington Post and some Western intelligence agencies. It is impossible for Mohammed bin Salman to escape from some form of accountability. How much largely depends on whether the Senate compels President Trump to enact the Magintsky Act, on whether Khashoggi’s family will file a murder, or wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. Courts, if the United Nations takes concrete action to demand an international investigation and how many civil society activists and journalists continue to demand for justice.
Lastly, no matter which way we look at it, the world, and especially the Saudi Arabian people, deserve better. The house of Al-Saud is internally divided, and afraid, like never before. With the brutal murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, the mad boy king has, for the moment, mutilated his own political future. He, and his entourage of sycophant supporters, need to be stopped, before things get even farther out of hand. As Senator Graham has recently stated, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is “a wrecking ball. He had [Khashoggi] murdered… the MBS figure is toxic. He can never be a world leader… This guy’s got to go. Saudi Arabia if you’re listening, MBS has tainted your country.”
* Associate professor of political science and Gulf studies, Qatar University
Associate Professor of International Affairs, Qatar University