Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Mohammed bin Salman’

What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th October, 2018

Jamal KhashoggiThe disappearance and possible murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has taken on an added disquieting significance with claims in the Turkish media that either his smart-watch or phone recorded him being questioned and tortured in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, to which he had gone for formalities ahead of his forthcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen. The Saudi government, meanwhile, insists that he left the consulate unharmed at the end of his visit, but as there has been no further sign of him since, that statement seems increasingly thin. There have been stern reactions to the affair from a range of world leaders, not least French President Emmanuel Macron; even Donald Trump has said there will be consequences if foul play is confirmed (having earlier expressed concern about any impact criticism might have on tens of billions of dollars-worth of US arms sales). The United Kingdom is also a key ally of and arms supplier to the desert Kingdom and there is growing dismay in London as the days go by with no convincing explanation. The official Saudi line, not surprisingly, is that all the furore is an effort to besmirch the country, though the accusatory finger is tellingly being pointed specifically at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “MBS”, who is the very public face of Saudi “reform”. Meanwhile several leading international figures have pulled out of a big event due in Riyadh shortly. Certainly, the Khashoggi case is something of a PR disaster at a time when MBS is championing his country’s new look. Exactly two weeks ago, I saw Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, here in London, where he was one of the speakers at a seminar on Oslo at 25 put on by the Middle East Monitor, MEMO. He looked preoccupied, which I put down to jet lag; surely, he cannot have had any inkling of what may have been waiting for him in Istanbul. There is a certain irony that his disappearance occurred in Turkey, however, given the clamp down on journalists and media organisations there. Perhaps the Saudis — assuming the plot theory is true — hoped that the Turks wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. But this is ot a story that can be easily quashed.

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MBS Comes to Town

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th March, 2018

Mohammed bin Salman billboard vansThe Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, has been in London today, getting right royal treatment befitting of a state visit, with lunch with the Queen, tea at 10 Downing Street and dinner with Prince Charles. There was some bemusement yesterday among Londoners as electronic billboard vans drove round the city welcoming MBS’s arrival, and today many newspapers had three half-page spreads reinforcing that message. For anyone familiar with the Gulf monarchies that is not in the least surprising, however; rulers and their crown princes are celebrated with giant pictures everywhere in their home territories, including whole sides of multi-storey buildings. Such apparent vaingloriousness is infra dig in Britain, but we should remember that we started eroding the power of absolute monarchs 800 years ago, whereas Saudi Arabia is a kingdom only 80-odd years old.

Mohammed bin Salman with Queen Elizabeth I was kept busy myself today, doing both television and radio interviews about the prince’s visit, as well as attending a session on youth’s place in Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision, at the Dorchester Hotel (where else?). Several people elsewhere asked me outright: well, are you for or against this visit? As one might expect from someone with a background in Reuters and the BBC, and with one foot in academe, I answered in more nuanced terms. As Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and actually sits on the UN Human Rights Council it must expect its domestic human rights record to come under scrutiny. The detention of dissidents has increased since MBS’s sudden ascendancy to the role of neo-dauphin and the rate of executions has actually doubled these last few months. Similarly, the immense human cost of the war in Yemen — exacerbated by the blockade of the port of Hodeidah, which has caused widespread malnutrition — is a legitimate cause for concern, even anger, made more acute by the fact that British arms sales (and some advice) has been helping the Saudi war effort there. However, on the other side of the coin, MBS (with his father’s approval, presumably) has ushered in some reforms that are noteworthy, such as the lifting of the ban on women driving later this year and at least a partial crackdown on corruption, as well as the introduction of VAT as a new source of tax revenue. So he should not be condemned out of hand, but neither should he be the object of unqualified praise. As I quipped on BBC Radio London this afternoon, under MBS’s guidance Saudi Arabia has entered the 20th century, but it hasn’t yet arrived in the 21st.

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