Erdogan’s game plan

Sayed Abdel-Meguid , Wednesday 24 Oct 2018

The Saudi crisis has given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan many winning cards in his personal quest to establish a regional power base

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Reuters)

The world was waiting for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reveal the “naked truth” about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Tuesday, as was announced days before.

However, his speech in parliament gave barely more detail than what is already known. Erdogan said Turkey had strong evidence Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated and “savage” murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October and demanded Saudi Arabia provide answers about where Khashoggi’s body is, and who ordered the operation.

The Turkish executive called for an independent commission to be set up to look into the case, adding that he was confident of King Salman’s full cooperation.

He fell short of revealing what proof Turkey has, and who was responsible.

Known to be bold and direct, observers believe that Erdogan may be trying to save diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, or succumbing to pressure from Riyadh or Washington to do the same.

It is no secret that Erdogan has much to gain from the Saudi crisis. It comes as an opportunity to polish his image before the world and take revenge on the kingdom while presenting Turkey as a regional Islamic power base.

Erdogan has been a champion of political Islam, partnering with Riyadh’s regional rival, Qatar, and provided a ground for a political movement that Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates see as a threat.

On Saturday, the Deputy Head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Numan Kurtulmus, said that Turkey will “never allow a cover-up” of Khashoggi’s murder and that Saudi Arabia will not be able to “wriggle out of its responsibility” by merely casting blame on a few officials.

He stressed that those individuals would never have been able to act without the knowledge of Saudi authorities. Therefore, Saudi Arabia should return to the ranks of nations that are committed to transparency, democratic principles and accountability before the people, he said.

Interestingly, the executive remained largely silent for the first five days of the crisis while ignoring provocative remarks from some members of the ruling party and giving some free reign to a well-trained media to pursue the line that they knew the government would take, which was to blame and censure Saudi authorities.

Still, Turkish President Erdogan said that the consulate was equipped with the latest surveillance system and could pick up a passing bird or even mosquito. He also questioned Saudi claims that the surveillance system had been turned off on the day when Khashoggi entered the embassy.

Then, striking an unusual conciliatory tone towards the US, he observed that others were as worried as he was. “We see the concerns coming from the US as well, from Trump, Pompeo and Pence.All express their unease with regard to this incident.” Coincidentally, these remarks came the day after the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson. 

Sahar Zeki
Sahar Zeki, an activist and a friend of slain Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, attaches a picture of him and a bouquet of flowers on the barriers blocking the road leading to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 (Photo: AP)

Later, when Riyadh acknowledged Khashoggi’s death, the Turkish press erupted in a wail of lament over the loss of that independent, freethinking journalist who chose voluntary exile in order to continue to wage his campaign to reform his country from abroad only to be murdered by those who didn’t like his criticisms.

After receiving a phone call from the Saudi monarch, Erdogan agreed to be patient, out of respect for the excellent historical and brotherly relations between the Saudi Arabia and Turkey and their peoples.

He stressed the need to strengthen this relationship, adding that he hoped “we will be able to reach conclusions that offer a reasonable explanation as soon as possible.”

But others remained adamant. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that if the Saudis do not consent to a search of the places alleged to be where the body of Khashoggi was cut up and buried, their diplomatic staff will be sent home.

He added, Khashoggi’s disappearance was not just something the world is watching, “it is a test of our laws. I have strong convictions on the case of his disappearance but I cannot say them, because this matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Turkish judiciary.”

Ibrahim Karagul, editor-in-chief of Yeni Safak newspaper, which is extremely close to Erdogan, added a call for the dismissal of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as well as Emirati Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed after Riyadh acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed.

But then, suddenly, Hurriyet and the Demioren news agency, both loyal to the regime, wrote that Khashoggi had connections with the CIA and that his fame derives from an interview he conducted with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Moreover, his uncle, Adnan Khashoggi, had served as the link between bin Laden and the CIA in the 1980s.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Erdogan’s game plan 

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