The horrific killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Turkey has sparked an unprecedented wave of condemnation of Saudi Arabia and its security apparatus.
The latter has caused a major upheaval in Saudi Arabia’s international relations and one that it will take years to rectify.
Even with Saudi King Salman announcing measures to investigate the incident on 20 October when Khashoggi was killed, the damage has already been done.
This Saudi intelligence blunder and the international scandal that has resulted from it have been turned into a victory for the Turkish and Qatari regimes.
These countries’ media have managed to control the narrative of the story and impose an international siege on the Saudi media, which was forced onto the defensive early in the crisis.
The Saudi denials of involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the latter admission that he had been killed, were not accompanied by proof that the Saudi security services in Turkey had not killed Khashoggi.
The result was that the Turks started to release one press statement after another detailing what they said had been a gruesome murder to the shocked international media.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempted to become a champion of human rights and the freedom of expression even as his media were condemning the Saudis for the lack of these things.
At the same time, the Qataris were pouring fuel on the fire internationally and managing to capture the attention of the world’s media, especially since Khashoggi had been a US resident since 2017.
Qatar has been seeking revenge on the Saudis for their regional boycott of the Qatari state for its role in financing terrorist groups and even in supporting regime change in many countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia.
The Qatari AlJazeera TV network is known for its support for jihadist movements, and it airs programmes in which guests openly declare their allegiance to groups such as the Islamic State (IS).
It has been losing credibility since the Arab Spring revolutions owing to its support for Muslim Brotherhood terrorists across the region.
Unfortunately, Khashoggi’s death has brought AlJazeera back onto the media scene, since it has coordinated with Turkey to keep it abreast of developments.
The result has been a media victory for the Islamist regimes in Turkey and Qatar over Saudi Arabia, whose diplomatic efforts to contain the situation and the media response have been inconsistent and have served the Turkish and Qatari goal of blackmailing Saudi Arabia and smearing Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman.
However, such tactics by Erdogan to divert attention from his own regime’s crimes throughout the region cannot overshadow facts on the ground regarding freedom of speech and human rights in Turkey, especially regarding the Turkish treatment of journalists and the media.
According to the Swedish NGO the Stockholm Centre for Freedom, 68 journalists have been convicted, 168 arrested, and 148 are still wanted in Turkey on various trumped-up charges.
These figures do not include the unexplained deaths of journalists such as the Americans Serena Shim and Rohas Aktas in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Erdogan also ordered the shutting down of 16 television channels, 45 daily newspapers, 15 magazines, 23 radio stations and 29 publishing houses in Turkey as part of the purge that followed the failed coup d’état in the country in July 2016.
These numbers make Turkey the worst country on earth in which to practise journalism, and unfortunately they have been widely overlooked during the international coverage of the Khashoggi case.
Moreover, during the Turkish regime’s diplomatic assault on the Saudi authorities it revealed that it had been wiretapping diplomatic missions in Turkey, among them the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Many have taken such espionage for granted, but it represents a huge breach of diplomatic protocol at the highest level, and the Turkish authorities may live to regret this admission because various countries will now take drastic security precautions to protect their diplomatic missions.
They may even order the withdrawal of personnel if bugs are found in their embassies or consulates in Turkey.
With the Turkish economy in turmoil, many political analysts had been predicting that Erdogan would attempt some wild move to divert attention from the domestic issues that have been piling up over recent months.
Accordingly, the Turkish regime will attempt to capitalise to the maximum on the death of Khashoggi in an attempt to gather international acceptance after the years of isolation resulting from Erdogan’s tyrannical rule.
However, it is unclear how far the Turks will be able to use this incident for these ends, and Erdogan might attempt another adventure in the form of a new Turkish military incursion abroad, perhaps in Iraq or Syria or even Cyprus, in order to shift the pressure from the domestic opposition to his rule.
Unfortunately, the Saudis have given the Turks and the Qataris an unexpected gift that may help them whitewash the crimes they have committed over the past decade.
These two terrorist-supporting regimes will now push for regime change in Saudi Arabia, hoping to see a new government in Riyadh that will mend relations with them over their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist outfits.
However, it is unlikely that King Salman will yield to such pressure, given these countries’ hostile stance towards the kingdom.
The Qataris have now deepened the rift between them and the Saudis to such an extent that negotiations between the two countries seem nearly impossible as long as the current regimes in Riyadh and Doha stay in place.
The Turkish and Qatari regimes should not be allowed to boast of a diplomatic victory over Saudi Arabia because of the killing of Khashoggi.
Instead, they should be exposed to the world as prime supporters of terrorism and assassinations in the region. It should be remembered that when the Turkish, Qatari and Iranian regimes preach about human rights it is because they are planning dubious actions of their own.
Regimes that have been involved in mass murders, assassinations, bombings, and the training and harbouring of terrorists can never be seen as the defenders of human rights.
* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Erdogan’s media game