Jamal Khashoggi, a writer and Islamist opponent of the Saudi government, was assassinated inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul Oct. 2. Since then, the capitalist governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the U.S., Moscow and other regimes in the region have been pressing to defend their conflicting interests. The capitalist rulers in all of these countries have blood on their hands after decades of wars and repression in the Middle East.
The administration of President Donald Trump is seeking to limit damage to its relations with the Saudi monarchy, an important ally for the U.S. capitalist rulers in the region.
After first denying that Khashoggi had been killed, the Saudi government now blames his death on a “rogue operation” within its security forces, seeking to distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the murder. Bin Salman issued his first statement on the killing Oct. 24, calling it “hideous” and pledging to cooperate with the investigation by the rival Turkish government.
The Saudi regime arrested 15 security agents and fired the deputy director of intelligence. News outlets in the kingdom, heavily controlled by the ruling monarchy, claim the commotion over the slaying is stirred up by rival governments in Turkey, Qatar and Iran.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a rival for influence with the Saudi regime, has led the campaign to weaken it by leaking new details of the killing on a daily basis.
Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia last year, as bin Salman launched a widespread crackdown on political opponents. The regime’s goal was to silence opposition to his course of combining steps to bring social relations in the monarchy more in line with the modern capitalist world and to strengthen the Saudi rulers’ position in its rivalry with Tehran. The Saudi rulers seek to accelerate industrial development and trade and reduce reliance on oil rents, trim the authority of the country’s “religious police,” and relax restrictions on women’s employment and participation in social life.
Khashoggi is a long-time defender of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group active across the Mideast. He writes as a defender of freedom of the press, but points to the dictatorial Ottoman Empire that came apart after the first imperialist world war as an example for what needs to be built today. He took up residence in the U.S. and also in Turkey, whose rulers are longtime rivals of the Saudi monarchy. Just prior to his killing Khashoggi castigated the Saudi rulers for failing to ally themselves with Islamist forces fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and for not backing the Turkish rulers’ intervention there.
He also disparaged Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen, criticizing the Saud family for failing to defeat the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Tehran. He said they needed to back the Islamist al-Islah party there, which has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is banned in Saudi Arabia.
Erdogan regime’s brutal repression
The Turkish government, notorious for locking up tens of thousands of opponents and its decadeslong war against the national aspirations of the Kurdish people in Turkey, Syria and throughout the region, has seized on Khashoggi’s killing to try to advance its own interests. Erdogan demanded Riyadh hand over those arrested in Saudi Arabia so they can be tried in Turkey. He says he will reveal more gruesome details about the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi.
President Trump has threatened the Saudi government with “severe” consequences if it is implicated in the killing, while also stating his determination to maintain relations with an “ally.” Alongside the governments of Israel and Egypt, Washington views the Saudi ruling family as a bulwark against the political and military clout of the Iranian rulers in the region. The White House also sees the Saudi regime as an ally in seeking a new Israeli-Palestinian deal.
The cleric-led capitalist government in Tehran has tried to blame Washington for the killing. “I don’t think without U.S. support that a country would dare to commit such a crime,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Oct. 24, calling for a full investigation.
The regime in Tehran was born out of a counterrevolution against the mass working-class movement that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah in 1979. Today the Iranian rulers are seeking to extend their counterrevolutionary sway, intervening in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It has entrenched its military bases in these countries, aiming to extend collaboration with Hezbollah and other allied Shiite militia.
Events unfolding today in the region take place against a winding down of the civil war in Syria, as the Assad regime, backed by Moscow and Tehran, has put down the rebellion that grew out of its crushing of mass popular protests against the regime in 2011.
Washington views Tehran’s growing military presence in the region as a threat to both its allies and its own interests, and is determined to force the Iranian rulers back. It has reimposed sanctions on Iran that fall hardest on working people and is relying on the Saudi rulers to increase oil production as Washington’s sanctions cut Iranian-refined oil from world markets.
Washington provides bombs and intelligence to Saudi armed forces carrying out airstrikes in Yemen, which has led to a growing famine.
Washington has been embroiled in decadeslong wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, wars that have caused death and misery for thousands.