The crown prince will stop at nothing to silence his growing number of critics, regardless of where they live.
A week after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the veteran Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi remains missing amid reports of a possible assassination on the orders of the Saudi government. The many U.S. lawmakers, journalists, and activists who had come to consider the former Saudi royal court advisor an indispensable independent voice on political developments in his native country, and specifically on the controversial policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have demanded answers from the Saudi government. They have been met with only official denials of any Saudi involvement.
If the Saudi government is eventually shown to have been involved in Khashoggi’s mistreatment, much less his death, the big question would be why. At a time when Mohammed bin Salman has spent billions of dollars to revamp his image abroad, why would Saudi Arabia go after such a well-known writer who had made a home for himself in Washington? Even high-profile commentators who have previously praised Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms have warned that kidnapping and possibly killing Khashoggi would prove to be a disaster for the Saudis.
The rationale behind the alleged act becomes easier to understand when it is properly seen as part of a larger pattern. Khashoggi’s rise to prominence was part of an unprecedented—and generally underappreciated—development in recent Saudi history that Mohammad bin Salman has been treating as a threat to his rule: More Saudis than at any time in recent memory have fled the kingdom, with many seeking asylum in Western countries.