Since journalist Jamal Kashoggi disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, on October 2nd, the European governments have progressively started to display a fake outrage. As information were gradually revealed by the Turkish government, the hemming and hawing of the Saudi Kingdom’s Western godfathers became clear: a hypocritical and repulsive smokescreen.
Act 1, Scene 1
As soon as October 5th, the Washington Post, for which Kashoggi had been working, alerted that their journalist had disappeared. But all the Western governments first stayed silent.
All the Western leaders were waiting to see how the boss would react. Which way would the wind blow? Everyone followed Trump’s silence during the first few days.
Of course, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salmane had been presented by everyone as an ideal partner until then. The “reformer” Prince, who got in power in June 2017 after a short power struggle, had supposedly reduced the authority of the religious police, agreed to open movie theatres, and authorised women to drive or go to stadiums. But at the same time, he had women rights militants arrested. Israa al-Ghomgham, an opponent to the Saudi regime who had participated in demonstrations in 2011, was arrested in 2015 and will face trial next week with the threat of public execution, as do five other people.
Such a good customer
That did not stop news articles praising this excellent customer of Western arm dealers. In the last 15 years, European companies have sold €57 billion worth of military and repressive equipment to Saudi Arabia. This country is France’s second-best customer for the 2007-2016 decade, with close to €12 billion in military spending. The list of French toys used against the Yemeni people since 2015 includes Leclerc tanks, Caesar long range cannons, and Mirage 2000 planes. A few states led by Saudi Arabia wage a war in Yemen that, so far, has resulted in 10,000 dead and three million displace people according to the UN.
Two weeks of hypocrisy
Trump first called for caution. The hope was that the news would be buried just as fast as it had broken. That gave the tone for his hatchet men, including Macron in a leading role, who played a similar tune. Macron, who declared in the Spring that he “does not consider Saudi Arabia as a customer but as an ally”, just condemned an attack on “free speech.” But the scandal did not fizzle out. The Turkish government, usually not the last when it comes to oppress journalists and massacre the Kurds, has continued to drip-feed details about the journalist’s murder.
Being cornered, the Saudi authorities had to admit the death of the journalist on October 19th. So Trump promised “very serious” consequences while giving more time to Riyad to “explain.” What consequences? The Western leaders have decided to stay away from the economic forum organised in Riyad at the end of the month – how courageous! No petits fours this year.
Trump, by cynically pointing the role of Saudi Arabia as a regional cop, and the arm deals worth $450 million, said out loud what many European leaders and manufacturers really think. If they continue to pay and deliver oil, the Saudi leaders have a bright future, despite their acts of violence.