The October 2 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul came as a shock to US and international media circles, with the international community's outrage proving to be a larger jolt to Riyadh.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Khashoggi family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2018.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Khashoggi family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

As the details of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance and subsequent murder at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul have come to light, the world’s top oil exporter has come under increasing pressure over the incident.

Ever since Mohammed bin Salman was named the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he has embarked on sweeping social and economic reforms but has marginalised some senior royals and overseen a crackdown on dissent.

The kingdom has ridden out a number of major internal and external crises, but this time is different, with some Western capitals increasingly critical of the murder and the Saudi version of events.

Talking about the murder, US President Donald Trump said Saudi authorities had badly managed the matter and staged the “worst cover-up ever.”

Both the US and Canada have cited economic concerns to justify their decisions to carry on with their respective arms sales agreements signed previously with Saudi Arabia.

Germany has announced it will stop arms sales, while Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement asking for an “urgent … clarification of exactly what happened Oct 2.”

But, to counter the allegations against the 'reformist' Crown Prince bin Salman and his close aides in the debacle, Riyadh has taken several steps to soften the image of the kingdom and to distance the royal House of Saud from any possible repercussions over the incident.

Release of Khalid bin Talal

Saudi authorities released Khalid bin Talal, the brother of billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal after 11 months in detention, family members said on November 2.

The Saudi  government did not offer any public explanation for his arrest or the conditions of his release.

He was detained for 11 months for criticising the biggest crackdown on the kingdom’s elite last November that saw dozens of princes, officials and tycoons detained at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.

The Saudi government now appears keen to shore up internal royal family support to defuse the crisis over Khashoggi's murder.

Authorities could also potentially release other elites still in detention, including former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah and billionaire businessman Mohammed al Amoudi, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The government labelled the detentions a corruption crackdown, but critics said it was an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — heir to the Saudi throne — to sideline his potential rivals and consolidate power.

Decision to waive $6 billion debts of poorer countries

Saudi Arabia plans to waive more than $6 billion of debt owed to the kingdom by poorer countries, a cabinet statement announced on October 30.

It did not name the countries, but said it was part of a larger UN development initiative.

The announcement came on the same day that United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for international experts to be involved in an independent investigation into Khashoggi's killing, with access to evidence and witnesses.

The move echoed a similar step by Riyadh, when it had released $100 million it had pledged earlier for the stabilisation of Syria on the same day US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in the kingdom to discuss the Khashoggi matter.

Reception for Ahmed bin AbdulAziz

Also on October 30, MBS received Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, one of King Salman's last surviving true brothers who had recently appeared to criticise the king and crown prince, at the airport in Riyadh upon the latter's return to the kingdom.

A senior Arab diplomat said Prince Ahmed had sought reassurances for safe passage from the king before traveling, and a Saudi with royal ties said it appears they had been given.

MBS poses for selfies at 'Davos at the Desert'

A number of Western politicians and global business chiefs stayed away from Saudi Arabia’s premier investment event dubbed "Davos in the Desert"over the Khashoggi case.

The event was held at the opulent Ritz-Carlton, where scores of princes, businessmen and officials were detained in a crackdown on corruption soon after last year’s conference ended, unnerving investors and raising concern about transparency.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman poses for a selfie during the Future Investment Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. October 23, 2018.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman poses for a selfie during the Future Investment Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. October 23, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

In his first public comments since the journalist’s murder sparked global condemnation, MBS said that the incident would not derail the kingdom’s reform drive and that the killers of Jamal Khashoggi would be brought to justice.

A crowd later formed around Crown Prince MBS at the venue and admirers snapped selfies before he retired to a private room without addressing the conference.

Meeting with Khashoggi's sons

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on October 23 met with Jamal Khashoggi's son at the royal palace in Riyadh, in a meeting that was widely reported as a staged photo-op session.

Many political commenters wrote about the awkwardness of the situation as well as the expressions on the young Khashoggi's face when meeting with the king and his heir.

The slain journalist's son later left the kingdom for the US despite earlier reports suggesting that Riyadh had banned the children from travelling abroad.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies