The Khashoggi affair

Why would any civilized government be so allergic to criticisms to the point of physically harming critics? Such intolerance is unacceptable

The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist and a prominent critic of the Saudi rulers, on 2 October 2018 after he stepped into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to fulfill administrative procedures relating to his forthcoming marriage has shocked the world and has engulfed Turkey, the Saudi rulers, the United States, European leaders and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a major diplomatic crisis.

Jamal Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia for the US in 2017 and had been writing a column in the Washington Post. Amidst the wildest speculations and allegations that he was murdered, the UK, France and Germany have demanded, in a joint statement, a transparent and credible investigation to establish the truth into Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and asked for a complete and detailed response from Saudi Arabia. They added that if relevant those bearing responsibility for the disappearance should be held to account.

Saudi Arabia’s stock market fell this week amid concern that international criticism and outrage over the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi will hurt foreign investment. The IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, other business leaders and the CEOs of major banks decided to back out and not to participate in Saudi Arabia’s big Investment Conference scheduled next week.

Earlier this week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reveal everything they know about the disappearance and possible extra-judicial killing of the prominent Saudi journalist after he visited his country’s consulate in Istanbul. She also called on the two governments ‘to ensure that no further obstacles are placed in the way of a prompt, thorough, effective, impartial and transparent investigation.’ Saudi Arabia is also under pressure from mounting opposition in Congress against the US support of the Saudi Arabia led coalition air strikes using US-manufactured precision-guided munitions which cause rising civilian casualties including children in Yemen.

Two weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkish investigators who were allowed into the Saudi Arabian consulate this week have, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, found traces of evidence, fresh coats of paint and signs that the premises had been cleaned up. He added that the investigation is also checking for toxic materials and other elements. The Turkish investigators are also to search the Saudi consul’s residence situated a short distance away as surveillance footage shows vehicles moving between the consulate and the consul’s home after Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance. Turkey is widening the search for clues to the disappearance.

The unexplained disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul raises many legitimate questions and is a huge blow to the image of the kingdom’s rulers. There is obviously more to it than meets the eye.

Surely, no one seriously thought that such a high profile disappearance could be swept under the carpet in 2018. The disappearance has all the trappings of a seedy affair. It is reminiscent of the unaccounted disappearance of political opponents under the worst past dictatorships such as the Pinochet regime in Chile or the 1967-1974 rule of the Colonels in Greece.

Apart from repressive dictatorships, why would any civilized government be so allergic to criticisms to the point of physically harming critics? It raises serious questions on the mode of governance. Such intolerance is unacceptable in the modern democratic world and should be severely sanctioned.

Realpolitik versus truth and justice

Saudi Arabia is a major ally of the United States and is a key element of the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, especially in the context of the rising role and footprint of Iran in the region. There is also the looming shadow of billions dollar arms deal between the US and Saudi Arabia and US jobs. Last week, the US president threatened ‘severe punishment’ if it emerged that Khashoggi, a US resident, had been murdered. However after talking to the Saudi King earlier this week, Donald Trump suggested that Khashoggi could have been murdered by ‘rogue killers.’ Will realpolitik come to the rescue and dictate a face saving narrative to bail out Saudi Arabia from this discomfiture despite mounting international condemnation?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has this week met the Saudi King Salman who promised to carry out a ‘thorough, complete and transparent investigation’. He is also meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. There is thus growing speculation in US media reports that an appropriate narrative and deal to keep all parties on board will be conjured in the name of realpolitik. Will there be, as so many times in the past, scapegoats named and punished instead of the real culprits of such heinous crimes? Will this approach be credible?  How would such a narrative hold up under intense scrutiny by the US Congress bearing in mind the Congressional elections in early November, the media and possibly the US courts?

Surely the UK, France and Germany will press for justice for Khashoggi in the name of basic human values and moral standards. The Khashoggi case stands under the world’s scrutiny as a test for truth and justice to prevail.

* * *

Crippling indecision at the helm
It is pointless to produce a costly report after some three years and then to dilly-dally on the implementation of its most potent recommendations

 It’s been more than two months since the damning and telling report of the Commission of Enquiry on Drug Trafficking has been made public. It inter alia exposed the disquieting fact that the current system of combating drug trafficking and the institutions mandated to do so such as the Anti-Drug and Smuggling Unit (ADSU), the police, the prison services are sapped and undermined by some black sheep from within. Yet, despite the government’s rhetoric and proclaimed determination to rid the country of the scourge of drug trafficking, no cogent and concrete actions have so far been taken by government to promptly implement the main recommendations of the report of the Drug Commission already endorsed by the people at large. Implementation means taking robust actions which people can see turns the heat on drug traffickers and peddlers and breaks their stranglehold over the country.

Despite the government claim that 80 out the 460 recommendations of the report have been implemented without specifying which ones, there seems to be little impact on the drug trade in the country. Not surprisingly, the Rectors of prominent secondary schools have raised the alarm at the proliferation of harmful synthetic and other drugs in school precincts. In the absence of potent government actions, the deadly business of drug trafficking seems undeterred, as evidenced by the almost weekly interception and hauls of various illicit drugs including hard drugs being smuggled into and seized in the country. The relentless war against drug traffickers has to be at the top of government priorities. It is pointless to produce a costly report after some three years and then to dilly-dally on the implementation of its most potent recommendations.

Despite the clear indictment of ADSU in the report and the recommendation that it as well as the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit should be disbanded and replaced by a single independent unit, the National Drugs Investigation Commission (NDIC), the ADSU is still in operation and continues to be commended by government for its performance.

We cannot as a nation allow this plague to fester and destroy the lives of the youth of the country. In the light of the damaging ramifications of the findings of the report, is there a real will to implement its core recommendations and quash this evil from the country?

Muddled priorities

Has the government got its priorities all muddled up? There is a growing perception of crippling indecision at the helm of the country. This relates to cutting the dead wood in the light of an honest reality check of the sugar industry and ensuring equity of treatment and fairness in the sugar cane sector instead of the palliatives and stopgap measures dished out by government over the past years.

This also relates to the inability of government to take all necessary steps to put the standing and repute of the financial services sector on a sound keel amidst growing evidence that through the lack of a rigorous due diligence screening of applicants, operating permits have been granted to questionable operators being prosecuted for financial wrongdoing abroad or named in the Panama, Paradise and now Dubai papers.

It also concerns the absence of growth in private sector investment in 2018 which still remain highly skewed towards unproductive building and construction work, decried and costly decisions taken by state banks, the inability to ensure transparency and meritocracy in recruitments policies amidst growing discontent, the imperative of separating religion from politics in our lay republic or the need to elevate political jousting to a debate of ideas instead of repeatedly rehashing cheap digs at political opponents The list is long.

This can’t go on. This messy state of affairs yet again highlights that it is only the people who can choose and decide who has the qualities which can be trusted and innovative proposals which rally the multitude, to be mandated to run the country. It is now therefore time for the people to once again exercise this sovereign right to make an enlightened choice for a new team and a more ambitious vision of Mauritius for the benefit of all.

* Published in print edition on 19 October 2018

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