Year-in-Review: Khashoggi's murder prompted more thought than actions
Updated 10:26, 08-Jan-2019
Wang Jin
04:41

Editor's note: 2018 was more dramatic than many other years, and as we have moved into a new year, it's time to look at the major ups and downs of 2018 and consider how they will impact the future. Among them, the murder of a Saudi journalist captured global attention due to its appalling cruelty. Wang Jin, a research fellow at the Charhar Institute and the Northwest University evaluates how the murder of Jamal Khashoggi offers a new window to the power game in the Middle East. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government, walked into the country's consulate in Istanbul.

Minutes later, he was killed and his body dismembered, according to reports by Turkish media. Within hours the killers were gone.

The murder has gained global attention because of its abject cruelty but it has also given the international community a new window to review Saudi governance under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, better known as MBS.

MBS has labelled himself as a moderate reformer. He put forward "Vision 2030," a plan to reduce the country's dependence on oil and to diversify the economy. The reform was welcomed in a nation where 70 percent of the population is under 35 years old.

But there have been critics and Khashoggi was one of them, who was especially critical about the country's intervention in the Yemen War that has created a severe humanitarian crisis and become a financial burden on Saudi Arabia.

Now, Saudi Arabia has opened an investigation but very little progress has been made so far and the crucial question remains: who ordered the murder?

Though an assessment by the CIA has suggested that MBS was behind the killing, it has proved tricky for U.S. President Donald Trump given Saudi Arabia's huge military weapons market, its alliance with the U.S., and its role in "containing" Iran in the region.

Has it shaken America's domestic politics? Yes, but the extent is limited.  

The murder of Khashoggi brought the Yemen crisis back to the discussion table of the U.S. Congress and has managed to divide American politicians even further. On December 13, Senators voted to end U.S. assistance for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. In a unanimous agreement, Senators decided to believe that the crown prince was "responsible for the murder," directly defying Trump's persistent defense of its longtime Middle East ally. 

It seems that there's urgency among both parties in the U.S. to reflect on its past relationship with Saudi Arabia and its role in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. To quote Senator Mike Lee's words, the murder made the U.S. "focus on the fact that we have been led into a civil war in Yemen, half a world away."

In Europe, the murder case has made Turkey more salient in the Middle East and the international arena as its media gradually releases the circumstances surrounding the murder and the Turkish government constantly calls for a more transparent international investigation.

The case has also become a bargaining chip for Ankara with both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. There are reports that Turkey is looking to force the Trump administration to compromise over the Kurdish issue in Syria and to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey calls a "terrorist group leader" and claims that he was behind a failed military coup in Turkey in 2016.

However, even with the historic vote from the Senate, the close relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is likely to maintain.The king and crown prince are still able to stabilize the internal political order with their authority and power as the "strategic interest" the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia has too much at stake to be risked. As of this moment, perhaps there are more reflections than actions. The appalling murder case has gained worldwide attention, but there are always larger forces to silence dissenting voices.  

Scriptwriter: Wang Jin 

Video photographer: Ma Jianfei, Yang Zhen 

Edited and designed by Liu Shuo, Li Linxi, Zhao Yuanzhen, You Jia, Bai Jinyu

Cover photo: Liu Shaozhen

Producer: Bi Jianlu