Saudi Arabia's MBS is attempting to resuscitate his career by publicly mixing with foreign leaders, but it may be too late.
In his first major international appearance, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (better known as MBS) has travelled to the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires to participate in the G20 summit. MBS likely wants to show the world that his international standing has remained unsullied despite many linking him to the brutal killing of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in early October. However, it seems that the shadow Khashoggi casts in death far exceeds the influence he had in life as MBS remains bloody-nosed before fellow world leaders, his reputation irrevocably tarnished in most of the world’s eyes.
Argentinian prosecutor investigates MBS
Earlier this week, and ahead of the G20 summit, international human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) submitted a file of evidence to an Argentinian federal judge calling on the South American country to investigate MBS. HRW requested that MBS be investigated for war crimes in Yemen, and also for the Saudi royal to be probed regarding his alleged involvement in the murder of Khashoggi, who was slain and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
While Argentina has no jurisdiction in crimes that happen in Yemen or Turkey, the Argentinian constitution has a clause that allows it to have universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity irrespective of where they occur throughout the world. This is similar to previous laws in the United Kingdom where Israeli politicians were routinely threatened with criminal prosecution for war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories, only for Britain to rewrite war crime laws to satisfy their Zionist allies.
Unlike Britain, however, Argentina has yet to change its laws with regard to such offences, which must have been both unhappy and unlucky for MBS. Following HRW’s request that appears geared toward embarrassing the crown prince, Argentinian legal authorities announced hours after he arrived in Buenos Aires that they would begin initial inquiries into whether or not other authorities were competently investigating the allegations. If they are found to not be probing sufficiently or robustly enough, Argentina could begin its own investigation into MBS.
While this preliminary phase is unlikely to lead to any arrests or indictments, MBS is reportedly so concerned about these legal developments that he is holed up in the Saudi Arabian embassy rather than risk arrest by staying with the rest of his entourage in a hotel.
In a statement, HRW said regarding MBS and the probe, “A cloud of suspicion will loom over him as he tries to rebuild his shattered reputation at the G20, and world leaders would do well to think twice before posing for pictures next to someone who may come under investigation for war crimes and torture.”
MBS transforming into a pariah
Certainly, world leaders will naturally be hesitant to be seen cosying up to MBS in any way, shape or form.
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that MBS had directly requested a face-to-face meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who simply responded with, “Let’s see.” Turkey has been at the forefront of the campaign to expose the person who ordered Khashoggi’s killing, with Erdogan ruling out King Salman bin Abdulaziz while making no mention of his son, the crown prince. To many, this tacitly suggests that Ankara believes MBS was behind the killing or at least knew about it, contrary to Saudi claims that it was simply a “rogue operation.”
In his many speeches and interviews since the murder, Erdogan has made a pointed effort to refrain from even addressing MBS by his name and barely even references him at all. One gets the distinct impression that the Turkish president would rather meet the plague than press the flesh with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, whose arrogant style as well as his seemingly blase approach to meting out violence has alienated many.
Although US President Donald Trump and his administration have thrown their weight behind MBS, even they have their limits as to how much they are willing to tolerate interacting with him. When Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked whether Trump would meet with MBS, she refused to rule out whether any interaction may happen but stated, “I don’t think there’s time for us to add anything additional” to the meetings the American president was already scheduled to have. This shows that, despite Saudi Arabia’s mammoth investments in the US economy, it is still not enough for Trump to consider MBS a priority in his scheduling.
Apart from Iran, Turkey represents the other most powerful role in the Middle East. If neither a regional power nor his closest ally, the United States, wants much to do with him, MBS may have significant reason to be concerned for his future. Indeed, French President Emmanuel Macron was overheard telling MBS in a private conversation at the G20 that he was "worried", with the prince's assurances doing nothing to alleviate his concerns.
After all, if he does inherit the throne, the 33-year-old MBS may conceivably rule until old age. That is a very long time for powers seeking concessions from Saudi Arabia to continue to use these alleged crimes as a stick with which to beat him into submission. Ruling for decades as a pariah ruler of a pariah state can swiftly become a lonely endeavour, and MBS may yet rue the day he decided to enact certain courses of action.
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