Days after being implicated in a conversation with the Saudi Crown Prince who threatened to "put a bullet" in Jamal Khashoggi, Turki Aldakhil was appointed as Saudi's envoy to the UAE. Who is he and who's really pulling his strings?
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia designated Al Arabiya’s former head, Turki Aldakhil, as its ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It happened just days after the New York Times revealed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) had told Aldakhil he would “use a bullet” on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if he did not return to Saudi Arabia.
The conversation between the Crown Prince and his aide Aldakhil, took place in September 2017, a year before the killing, and was picked up recently in a bid by US intelligence agencies to find the culprit behind Khashoggi’s death.
In the conversation, MBS stated that if Khashoggi could not be tricked into returning to Saudi Arabia, then he should be returned through force.
If neither of those methods worked, the crown prince said, he would go after Khashoggi “with a bullet."
Turki Aldakhil: The rising star
Aldakhil’s appointment envoy appointment was a mark of the Saudi crown prince’s trust in his former aide, particularly given that the UAE is Saudi Arabia’s closest ally in the region, and a key part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The Washington Institute reported that Aldakhil was MBS’s “closest and most trusted advisor”, accompanying the young prince on all his trips when he served as his aide.
Aldakhil profited immensely from King Salman’s ascent to the Saudi throne following the death of Salman’s brother King Abdullah on January 23 2015, while the inexperienced Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Minister of Defence.
Only a few days later, on January 31 2015, Aldakhil was appointed the new General Manager of Al Arabiya.
Less than three months after his ascension, King Salman appointed his son Prince Mohammed as deputy crown prince, with the latter quickly going on to purge competition and establish himself as the crown prince.
Aldakhil would only go on to reap more rewards.
An anonymous source, speaking to the Middle East Observer, stated that Aldakhil’s performance in his role at Al Arabiya led to his rapid promotion.
A document dated February 15 2015, from Alistithmar Capital, shows an investment of 8.4 million Saudi Riyals ($2.24 million) made by Aldakhil.
On August 13 2015, just six months later, his investment was multiplied by 11 times, rising to 94 million Saudi Riyals ($25 million).
The UAE Pay-Off
But MBS is not Aldakhil’s only patron.
The journalist also enjoys deep ties with the Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (also known as MBZ) and the Emirati royal family.
Aldakhil once described his close relationship with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi by stating: “I do not work as an advisor to him, but I have good relations with him.”
In an interview in January 2014, he added: “The grace of his virtue is above all. The most important and most widespread of all graces are those he bestows upon me.”
Clear financial ties also link him to Emirati authorities.
Documents obtained by the Middle East Observer, dating back to 2012 and 2014, show Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed groomed the journalist for his upcoming role in Al Arabiya.
The first document shows Emirati Foreign Minister, Abdullah Bin Zayed transferred a sum of about 1.1 million UAE Dirhams ($316,000) to Aldakhil’s personal bank account on 22 October 2012.
He is the son of the founder of the UAE’s founder Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and has held his post since 2006.
This was followed, as shown in the following document, with a transfer in July 2014 for the sum of $633,333.33 to the same account.
But who is Turki Aldakhil?
Aldakhil, 45, is known as a dynamic journalist who left his mark on Al Arabiya’s leading weekly show, Edaat (Spotlight), rising quickly to the position of general manager in Dubai, furthered with royal patronage gained during his time as an aide to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
Considered a prolific writer, his best-selling book is titled Memoirs of a Previously Obese Man, where he details his struggles to lose weight.
He was once considered close to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire-prince who was one of the most high-profile figures arrested during MBS’s purge after coming to power.
In 2014, he received an America Abroad Media (AAM) award, in which was described as “the Charlie Rose and the Larry King of the Middle East”.
In a video released by the AAM, he is featured as a journalist, TV host and described as a “champion of women’s rights, civil society, and religious tolerance in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf”.
The same video features Aldakhil urging women to be “masters of your own affairs”.
“If you don’t defend your rights for yourselves, men won’t do it for you,” he says.
This contrasts sharply with Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, with multiple female activists who campaigned for the right to drive in prison.
Human rights researchers describe a state of torture and sexual harassment for the female prisoners.
Aldakhil also took a strong stance in defence of Saudi Arabia during the fallout from Khashoggi’s killing.
He was one of the first to attack US sanctions against Riyadh, in a column published on the Al Arabiya website, in which he warned of “catastrophic” consequences, asserting that any sanctions “would hit the US economy much harder than Saudi Arabia’s economic climate," and foreseeing risks to global security; chiefly a “reconciliation” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
All the Princes’ men
Aldakhil’s close ties to the Emirati MBZ may have been the basis for the friendship between the Saudi and Emirati crown princes.
Building on his deep ties to the UAE, Aldakhil entered Mohammed bin Salman’s trusted circle of advisors, bringing his close ties directly to the new crown prince.
Following the ousting of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Aldakhil’s influence grew and with it MBZ’s clout in Riyadh.
With little to no previous diplomatic experience, Aldakhil’s role may be superfluous given the strong bilateral ties that already exist between the two countries.
If anything, the announcement of his appointment only days after his implication in a conversation foreshadowing Khashoggi’s death suggests an affirmation of trust and faith by the Saudi crown prince.