Disappearance of writer strains Turkey- Saudi ties
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — At first glance, the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is just the latest crisis to strain relations between the kingdom and Turkey in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011.
Yet, like elsewhere in the region, things are more complicated than they initially appear.
Saudis and other Gulf Arabs still flock to Istanbul and purchase property throughout a country viewed as having one foot in Europe and another in the Mideast. The kingdom remains one of the top foreign investors in Turkey, providing crucial hard currency amid a crisis in the Turkish lira.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s support of Islamist groups clashes with the stance of Gulf sheikhdoms that view groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as threats to their hereditary rule.
Erdogan also maintains
links to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s Mideast archrival, and Qatar, a nation now boycotted by the kingdom and three other Arab nations over a political dispute.
All this together requires Ankara to maintain a careful balancing act.
“Turkey is at the center of an economic storm and has very few friends to turn to for help. Ankara- Washington relations are at an all- time
low. Turkey- Russia relations are vulnerable and relations with Europeans are complicated,” wrote Gonul Tol, the director of the Turkey program at the Washingtonbased Middle East Institute.
“To avoid further prob
lems, Turkey has been trying hard not to further strain ties with Saudi Arabia,” Tol said.
That hasn’t been helped by the Oct. 2 disappearance of Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post whose writing helped interpret to the West the opaque machinations of the Saudi royal court.
Khashoggi wrote columns critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 33- year- old son of King Salman, and had
lived in the United States over the last year in a selfimposed exile.
Turkish officials fear a Saudi team of 15 men killed and dismembered the writer at the consulate. They have yet to publish any evidence of him being slain, though surveillance footage around the consulate shows a convoy of vehicles with diplomatic
license plates leaving the Saudi Consulate for the consul’s home in Istanbul a little under two hours after Khashoggi’s arrival.
Reports in Turkish media and the Post suggest Turkish officials have both video and audio of the killing, something The Associated Press has been unable to confirm.
Saudi Arabia meanwhile maintains that the allegations against it are “base
less,” but has yet to offer any proof that Khashoggi simply walked out of the consulate and disappeared into Istanbul, despite his fiancée waiting for him outside.
The crisis comes at a sensitive time for Erdogan. The Turkish lira has depreciated by close to 40 percent against the U. S. dollar since the start of the year. Inflation has spiked. Part of that rests on the massive loans taken out by the country during a construction boom under Erdogan, which helped fuel his popularity.