Iran sits back while Saudi Arabia's MBS goes from hero to zero in a spectacular fall from its lavishly funded grace. Many regular Iranians, however, are not so willing to engage in the schadenfreude.

The case of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—suspected of being murdered by Saudi operatives inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey—is just the kind of anti-Saudi condemnation that Iran needed to counteract the anti-Iran statements coming from the US-Saudi-Israel triangle. 

Yet the Iranian opposition has taken this opportunity to turn the blame on Iran arguing that it has committed similar acts against Iranian journalists. 

Iran has been increasingly angered over the last two years by the stark imbalances it sees in America’s close supportive relations with Saudi Arabia in contrast to the way the US establishment and President Donald Trump in particular treat Iran, often with contempt and disrespect.

So over the past week Iran has quietly enjoyed the widespread criticism of Saudi Arabia not just over the Khashoggi case but also over the international condemnation of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the UN says is creating what could be the worst famine in the last 100 years. 

In both cases, public opinion in Europe and the United States is changing, putting increasing pressure on policy makers to review relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - some even calling for the imposition of sanctions.

It couldn’t be better for Iran. 

Others are doing what it couldn’t hope to do with all lobbying efforts in the world. And that is perhaps why Iran has been relatively quiet about the case. 

The Iranian opposition, however, see it differently. They think Iran has been quiet because it fears any criticism may come back to haunt its own treatment of Iranian journalists.

“Iran does not have the right to complain to Trump about Khashoggi,” tweets Mojtaba Vahedi an opposition journalist. 

“It has killed tens of [Iranian] journalists in the most gruesome way,” he says.

Yet the official Iranian News Agency, IRNA, cannot hide its delight in reporting that “unprecedented pressure on Saudi Arabia is being taken to a whole new level”. 

It gives details of high profile international organisations like the IMF and HSBC that have pulled out of the investment summit organised by the Saudi prince, later this month in Riyadh.

The hardline Iranian media indulge in coarser headlines: “Khashoggi Dismembered as Saudi Operatives Listened to Music,” says Tasnim news.  

“Khashoggi is a classic case of murder and Saudis should be held to account,” says Fars News. The daily Keyhan predicts that Saudi, Turkish and US officials “are now bargaining over Khashoggi’s blood money.” It predicts that a few heads would roll including the Saudi foreign minister and close advisers to MBS.

Backlash to gloating

Mohsen Rezai, Secretary to Iran’s Expediency Council and a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) is more forthright in his condemnation, "The killing of Khashoggi is just one line out of the thick book of Saudi crimes especially committed by Bin Salman and his military and political protector, [Donald] Trump,” he Tweets.

But Iranians remind Rezai that the Islamic Republic has also treated its opposition in a similar way.  

“What is the difference between Khashoggi, and Hoda Saber and Sattar Beheshti?” asks one person who tweets using the pseudonym “Student”.  He is referring to two Iranian journalists who died while in custody.

Beheshti spent one night in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where he wrote an official complaint to prison authorities alleging ill-treatment, before being moved to an unknown location. And Hoda Saber died of a heart attack after spending 10 days on hunger strike in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

“All dictators are the same,” says another tweet.  “You have also killed many intellectuals.” 

Another tweet addresses Rezai directly, “Did you Mr. Rezai write tweets when young Iranian opposition members were being tortured? Did you get upset when environmental activists were killed?”. 

This is a reference to the death of the wildlife campaigner, Kavous Emami, who officials said had killed himself in prison but his associates rejected the claim. There are numerous tweets referring to the several killings of opposition figures, reporters and intellectuals.

These examples are anecdotal but they show the extent to which history does not forget cruel acts in authoritarian states wherever they may be committed. 

They also show the outrage people feel over the killing of journalists and intellectuals whom they see as their protectors of freedom of speech and civil liberties.

And however happy Iran maybe over the damage to the reputation of Saudi Arabia, it must remember that it will be equally judged for its own repressive measures against Iranian opposition and civil rights activists - measures it has adopted for almost forty years.

“Khashoggi’s gruesome murder is symbolic of the brotherhood between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” tweets Kourosh Zaim another veteran opposition figure. 

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