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The Saudi Line and American Politics

Expectations were high for Graeme Wood’s WorldDenver talk on Saudi Arabia, following the breaking murder story of Jamal Khashoggi and the harrowing details that have emerged. Wood disclosed his theories on the assassination, offered a comprehensive, historical breakdown of Saudi’s current global stance and contemplating the implications for the USA.


To begin with, Graeme Wood outlined the brief history of the Fahd family, descendants of the House of Saud, founders of Saudi Arabia in 1744. Nowadays, it is the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), son of King Salman, who wields the power, having drawn world attention in his internally contended reforms. Up until this point, however, Saudi has still drawn question marks on its harsh crack down on dissidents and suspected non-compliance with international Human Rights Laws.  


Despite this, Wood explained that the development of relations between USA and Saudi, predominantly come down to Saudi Arabia taking a stance against Jihadism and reinstating that Saudi already embodies the Islamic State. Nevertheless, it is also challenging to brush over the events of the Saudi Arabian Summit in Riyadh 2017, when Trump signed a US$110 billion Saudi arms deal. Indeed,  there are many abstruse factors in play, but Jamal’s fate has served to peel back some of the visage.  


Wood spoke about a recent meeting with Jamal Khashoggi in London, where they discussed his belief that Saudi has been too harsh on dissidents, the reason for his own exile and a deep sadness at feeling unable to return to his home for his own safety. Initially, MbS’ government remained silent when it was revealed Jamal had disappeared from an appointment in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, but Turkey released compelling evidence proving otherwise. The eventual official line of statement released by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, admitted that Khashoggi had died during a “brawl” inside the consulate. Wood believes that such a move is not compliant with MbS’ recent political moves and offered his alternative theory. 


After sidling up to the USA and taking a firm line against dissidents and Islamic radicals - murdering Jamal, Wood affirmed, would be an illogical, counterproductive act. Given, it might have sent a warning to opposers of the Saudi crown, but at the cost of drastically hindering MbS’ efforts at a progressive political shift. Rather, Graeme believed that the murder was a botched kidnap attempt. He guesses that with the leverage of Khashoggi’s family, who remain in Saudi, most likely MbS wanted to coerce the journalist into compliance from within Saudi Arabia. Indeed, perhaps his 1.75 million twitter followers was simply too alluring. Therefore, in conclusion Wood’s theory is that Khashoggi was accidentally killed - a situation that was invariably exasperated as the Turkish grasped control of the situation.  

At a time of shifting worldwide political ideologies and ever increasing instability in the Middle East, Saudi’s unforgivable crime, handed Turkey a bargaining chip. Wood raised questions about why the illusive murder tape remains under lock and key. In his opinion, Turkey’s move to purposely trickle out a string of evidence in the Khashoggi murder case has an ulterior motive - or else the tape may not exist at all. 

Wood believed Turkey could be planning a manoeuvre for any of three trade-offs.

  1. An end to blockades against its ally Qatar.  
  2. A safer hand when dealing with Islamists (concessions could be asked in exchange for not releasing the tape).
  3. Economic support, since the Lira and economy of Turkey is drastically depreciating. 


So, with 18 Saudi citizens currently detained and an illusive tape threatening to make an appearance, we can only wait anxiously until the true events are made public. 

Wood concluded the talk by bringing together a review of the recent changes under MbS. Such as, an end to the Saudi women driving ban and even permitting the first boxing event in the Kingdom. His speech was none-the-less decisive, explaining that Saudis political moves endeavour to install the country firmly into the global sphere (in more than just oil rich assets), yet a lack of freedom of speech will certainly disrupt much of the progression made so far. 


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