The compensation paid to Jamal Khashoggi's family won't quell global outrage against the Saudi Kingdom.
As the Washington Post recently reported, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided Jamal Khashoggi’s four children with million-dollar houses in Jeddah and “five-figure” payments as compensation for their father’s killing.
The slain journalist’s sons and daughters will possibly receive tens of millions of dollars as what is often referred to in the West as “blood money”. The payout is sanctioned by Islamic law under the 'Qisas' provision which is based on the principle of equality and can be translated as 'retaliation in kind' or 'eye for an eye'. In lieu of death for a murder committed, the guilty party can compensate the aggrieved party. The historical basis of the law was to ensure that the blood of the poor, rich, slaves, free men, and women is considered equal.
King Salman approved this compensation last year as part of an effort to acknowledge that “a big injustice has been done” and to try “to make a wrong right.”
Although such a practice is customary in Saudi Arabia and addressed under Islamic law, these previously undisclosed payments were ultimately aimed at incentivising Khashoggi’s children to continue refraining from criticising Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom the CIA concluded was behind the journalist’s killing. It would be a mistake to presume that the Khashoggi family has much choice in accepting the compensation.
At a time when politicians, media outlets, and human rights organisations in many countries continue pressing on the Khashoggi file, the entire saga has severely damaged MBS' reputation in the West. For the leadership in Riyadh, it is important to prevent Khashoggi’s children from making statements that would add momentum to arguments in favor of Western governments revisiting their alliances with the kingdom.
The chances are good that the Al Saud rulers will successfully leverage their financial resources, as well as coercive rule, to obtain the continued loyalty of Khashoggi’s children who have, at least thus far, never publicly challenged the Saudi government’s official narrative(s) about their father’s killing.
Although dismissed by most outsider observers as sham trials, there are a few underway with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for five of the operatives involved in Khashoggi’s murder. Yet even if these trials close the case in Saudi Arabia, the resolution of this file under Saudi law will not resolve this saga internationally with UN and US-led investigations continuing.
More than six months after Khashoggi’s killing, the journalist’s body has not yet been found. In Washington and other Western capitals there remains much focus on, and outrage over, this episode, as well as a shared perception that Saudi Arabia’s trials for the accused fall far short of international standards for trials given the lack of transparency.
Moreover, this affair has become a bubbling domestic issue in the US with scores of lawmakers on both sides of the partisan divide harshly criticising Trump’s response to Khashoggi’s murder in which he said, “Maybe [MBS] did, maybe he didn’t” order Khashoggi’s killing notwithstanding the CIA’s findings.
The view that Trump’s failure to hold the Saudi government responsible has weakened America’s moral standing internationally, in addition to the US government’s credibility, has led to sustained calls on the White House to hold those with Khashoggi’s blood on their hands to account albeit to no avail.
Ultimately, it appears that the political fallout of Khashoggi’s murder will not remove MBS from power much to the dismay of American lawmakers who have called for this outcome. In Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, the king has shown no signs of reconsidering the succession lineup because of the Khashoggi affair or any other issue.
The Saudi crown prince simply cannot visit Washington given the angry response any trip to the US would trigger, most likely with large demonstrations and strong rebukes from high-ranking US officials in the Beltway. Moreover, with virtually all Democratic presidential hopefuls expressing outrage over Khashoggi’s killing and issuing strong rhetoric against MBS, as well as the cover that Trump has provided him since October, the possibility of Trump losing his re-election bid next year must truly unsettle the millennial prince.
Looking ahead, the Saudi leadership would like nothing more than to bury the Khashoggi saga and move forward in working closely with the US when it comes to the kingdom’s economic transformation as well as Riyadh's and Washington’s shared objectives in the region, particularly with respect to countering Iranian influence.
Although the compensation to Khashoggi’s children and the ongoing trials may close the slain journalist’s case as far as the Saudi government is concerned, officials in Riyadh must contend with the high possibility of the Khashoggi case plaguing the kingdom’s alliances with the US and other Western states for many years to come. What remains to be seen is which strategies MBS will pursue to recover the goodwill he lost in Washington after the world learned of Khashoggi’s fate.
Unquestionably, healing the damage inflicted on MBS’ reputation in the Beltway and Europe will prove no easy task for the kingdom’s crown prince in the post-Khashoggi period.
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