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Turkey and Saudi Arabia: Engaged in a Journalist-Snatching Alliance?

Turkey and Saudi Arabia: Engaged in a Journalist-Snatching Alliance?

Saudi Arabia and Turkey differ on some of the Middle East’s most important divides.

While Saudi Arabia is leading an effort to isolate Qatar regionally and on the global stage, Turkey backs Qatar.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are closer in their approach towards Syria, but Turkey hosts members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has been banned in the kingdom and is at the center of its conflict with Qatar.

Turkey also opposes U.S. sanctioning of Iran that has not just been embraced, but emphatically pushed by Saudi Arabia.

A new development

But now there is a new development – the disappearance in Istanbul of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A critic of the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Khashoggi is one of Saudi Arabia’s most venerable journalists, a liberal-minded man if there ever was one in that country.

He was editor of Al Watan, but was eventually forced to resign and subsequently became head of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s short-lived pan-Arab television venture based out of Bahrain.

Mr. Khashoggi, known for his close ties to the ruling family, went a year ago into self-exile in Washington, after being banned from publishing, which he feared was a prelude to arrest. He disappeared this week during a visit to the Saudi consulate.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey have so far commented on Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. A Saudi Press Agency report said an unidentified Saudi nationalaccused of having signed cheques that bounced had been deported to the kingdom on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Interpol. The agency gave no further details.

Also read:  Who Will Be Coming to Washington DC? #TurkeyUS

Not the first time

While it is unknown whether the agency was referring to Mr. Khashoggi, many fear that he may have been kidnapped. It would not be the first time that Saudi Arabia has forcibly repatriated its critics.

A Saudi detention or nabbing of Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul without at least tacit Turkish cooperation is quite inconceivable. If that were so, it would deeply embarrass Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and likely spark a further deterioration of Turkish-Saudi relations.

If Turkey was complicit, it would bear testimony to increasing results-oriented cynicism on both sides.

The German dimension

It would also put a damper on Germany. Heiko Maas, the country’s foreign minister, has just moved to make up with the Saudis, after a period of frosty relations.

Given the fact that the German government is rightfully concerned about detentions of German journalists in Erdogan’s Turkey, the Khashoggi case is an uncomfortable reminder of the profound illiberalism of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

From Turkey’s vantage point, letting this nabbing of Mr. Khashoggi happen, if that is the case (as is likely), is a small price to pay. Saudi-Turkish cooperation in Syria matters a great deal to Erdogan. It goes well beyond relief and development aid.

Most importantly, it helps Turkey create a sphere of influence in areas of Syria near Turkey’s border that are controlled by Turkish troops and administered by Turkey.

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Sigma Selected

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