July 12, 2022
Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, in an interview with newspaper editors in Cairo in March 2018 said that Türkiye, Iran, and extremist groups represented a “triangle of evil” in the region. This was widely reported in the Egyptian press. Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Ankara issued a statement saying that MBS had mentioned not Türkiye but the Muslim Brotherhood and radical groups.
His comments must have reflected the Kingdom’s frustration with Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, and the crumbling partnership in Syria. This was a sharp departure from Riyadh’s tradition of discreet diplomacy and low-key public statements.
A month later during his visit to the US, the Crown Prince gave Jeffrey Goldberg an interview which was published in The Atlantic on April 2, 2018. In response to Mr. Goldberg’s referring to “the triangle” he said, “First in the triangle we have the Iranian regime that wants to spread their extremist ideology, their extremist Shiite ideology… The second part of the triangle is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is another extremist organization… And the other part is the terrorists—al-Qaeda, ISIS—that want to do everything with force. Al-Qaeda leaders, ISIS leaders, they were all Muslim Brotherhood first. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of ISIS…” [i]
He was careful to avoid another openly hostile mention Türkiye, but by implication presented Türkiye as a supporter of extremism. For a change, surprisingly, Ankara remained reserved.
On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish government released the secret recordings of this atrocious crime.
“Intelligence and security institutions have evidence showing the murder was planned … Pinning such a case on a handful of security and intelligence members will not satisfy us or the international community,” President Erdogan said at a Justice and Development Party (AKP) group meeting. “From the person who gave the order, to the person who carried it out, they must all be brought to account.”
The next day, MBS called him. Riyadh said that they discussed the necessary steps to highlight citizen Jamal Khashoggi’s case with joint efforts.
And, on October 23, 2018, addressing more than 3,000 business leaders from around the world at the Future Investment Initiative, he accused unidentified critics of trying to use the Khashoggi case to “drive a wedge” between Saudi Arabia and Türkiye. He pledged that this would not happen as long as his father is king and he is the crown prince. He called Khashoggi murder a “heinous crime” and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Thus, for the Crown Prince, Türkiye turned from being part of the “triangle of evil” into a friend.
In early April 2022, a Turkish court ruled to transfer the trial of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to Saudi Arabia, in a move that meant the closure of the case. At the end of the month, President Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia. And two months later, on June 22, MBS arrived in Ankara to return the favor.
After the Khashoggi murder, presidential candidate Joe Biden said that he planned to make the Saudis “pay the price and make them the pariah that they are.”
On February 25, 2021, a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence titled “Assessing the Saudi Government’s Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi” was released by the Biden administration. It said, “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision-making in the Kingdom since 2017, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.” [ii]
Starting tomorrow, President Biden will visit Israel, the West Bank, and finally Saudi Arabia, following in President Erdogan’s footsteps. In a Washington Post op-ed titled “Why I’m going to Saudi Arabia” President Biden said:
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank”. [iii]
Unfortunately, with failed US and Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Arabs are losing faith in democracy to deliver economic stability across the Middle East and North Africa. According to a major new survey in which nearly 23,000 people were interviewed across nine countries and the Palestinian territories for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer network, most agreed with the statement that an economy is weak under a democracy. [iv]
Two thousand years ago, Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca had said, “Time heals what reason cannot.” It seems that two thousand years later, in a hugely more complicated world, healing takes no time where national interests are involved.