Saudi Arabia is back in the news following the disappearance of journalist James Khashoggi.
The prevailing narrative seems to be that the Saudi Arabian government is responsible for this disappearance.
Rumors have now been circulating that those close to the Saudi Royals believe it may have been rogue agents who went off on their own to do this.
Is that possible?
In fairness, it is hard to ever take the Saudi government at its word, as it has long been a source of corruption and fascistic rule.
However, to its credit, it seemed recently as though the Saudi government was finally trying to fix that.
The Crown Prince at the very least appeared to be leading through bold action on this front.
Some of the most connected business and political leaders in the country were swept up as part of an anti-corruption probe, including Royal Family Members and executives.
Charges ranged from bribery to money laundering to extortion.
Between this and the recent liberalizing of some Saudi laws — including women above a certain age being allowed to drive at certain times of day — Saudi Arabia seemed to be headed in the right direction for the first time in a long time.
But there is a long history of failed reformers in the Middle East, covering countries like Iran and Iraq.
Intentions always start out positive but whether or not the results end up that way is ultimately another matter.
And let’s remember Saudi Arabia’s long history of disgraceful behavior towards other countries.
It wasn’t long ago that the Saudi national soccer team refused to observe a moment of silence for London terror victims during a game in Australia.
I could use flowery language here, but I won’t.
Instead, I will simply say it was as classless and disgusting as anything I’ve seen in a long time and it sickened me to my very core.
Over the years they have funded numerous bad acts and it is worth keeping in mind that a whopping 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Plus, they still refuse to help one bit with the refugee crisis that is tearing their region apart.
As noted Middle Eastern scholar Daniel Pipes explains, “Saudi Arabia has many unique attractions for Sunni Muslims. To begin with, it has 100,000 high-quality, empty fiberglass tents that can house about 3 million people in Mina, just east of Mecca. Fireproof and air-conditioned, complete with toilets and kitchens, this unique resource is occupied a mere five days a year by pilgrims on the hajj.”
In demonstrating how little the Saudis have contributed here, Pipes notes that the amount of Syrians in that country is shockingly low: “One study, by Lori Plotkin Boghardt of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, estimates the number in the ‘low hundreds of thousands,’ say 150,000. That’s a small fraction of the over 4 million in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — and just 5 percent of the migrants who could be housed just in Mina’s splendid tents.”
So the ongoing reforms appeared to be a step in the right direction, but it was always going to be hard to trust anything done by the Saudi power structure.
Over the years, I know our government has had strong ties to the Saudi Royal Family and that has made it difficult for any president to lean on them strongly.
I know the saying “money talks” applies here, but are human rights really for sale?
Does human decency really carry a price tag?
The answer should be no, but unfortunately, up until now, it has been yes.
Simply put, Saudi Arabia has gotten away with things no poor country would have gotten away with and it is unconscionable.
Having said that, the corruption arrests and reforms looked to be an indication that these unconscionable abuses may have been on the way out in Saudi Arabia.
The Crown Prince legitimately seemed sincere in his quest to rid Saudi Arabia of corruption and make real reforms in the direction of improving the human rights of his citizens, including women who can now finally drive (under very restricted conditions, but it is a start).
The Saudis appeared to finally be starting to move in a positive direction.
But Khashoggi’s disappearance casts a huge shadow on Saudi credibility once again.
Many strongly suspect the Saudi Crown Prince and his minions of being responsible.
The Turkish government is in the midst of investigating and I hope they get to the bottom of it soon.
For now, while I understand the Saudis have done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt up to this point, I am willing to at least see where this investigation goes.
I want to believe the current Saudi regime is different.
I really do.
And I am willing to give the Saudi Royals a chance to clear their name if indeed they are actually innocent of this.
But with everything that has happened over the years, I am sure you will understand that I am holding the bar very high in terms of level of proof.
The Saudi Royals may not be behind this disappearance.
But until I know for sure, I cannot help but be highly skeptical of their claims of no wrongdoing.